If Your School’s History Books Don’t Mention 9/11, It’s Time to Go Digital

Parents of students attending John F. Kennedy Middle School in New York are outraged with school officials after their kids brought home decade-old textbooks filled with all manners of graphic inscriptions and illustrations.

It’s not exactly all that surprising, is it? When a book passes from middle schooler to middle schooler over the course of 12 years, chances are it will get dirtied up a bit. Young students with maturity issues get bored, start to doodle, and the books suffer.

I would even argue that the very age of the book likely contributes to its defacing. I remember being in high school and reading books and seeing maps on the walls that identified the Soviet Union as a country. The 12-year-old texts at JFK Middle School wouldn’t even include mention of 9/11. Let’s also take issue with a book from just five or six years ago, which would list Osama bin Laden as still alive.

A book that does not represent the current status of the world should be regarded as an antique and not an appropriate learning tool, especially when access to the latest information is but single mouse click away. Perhaps a student writing a dirty word in such a book is an expression of their dissatisfaction with it?

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We’ve written plenty before about the imminent death of the traditional textbook. The Discovery Channel is entering the space, the startup Kno recently partnered up with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and digital textbooks are projected to save schools up to $3 billion per year. Edtech startups are taking advantage of tablet and web technology and embracing digital textbooks, and school districts are beginning to pay attention, because it allow students access to timely learning and the latest information.

The district in which JFK Middle School is located appears to be paying attention to the issue, considering leasing tablets in order to embrace digital textbooks in the class. The issue, as is the case with most school districts, remains a matter of cost. “The district is always looking for ways to not only save money, but to also move the district forward with regard to technology and education,” said the School Board Vice President Lance Brown.

Schools cannot immediately make the transition to replacing heavy textbooks with tablets, but as the popularity of the technology increases, it is possible that the cost of it will start to decrease. And who knows? If the debacle of graffiti-laden 12-year-old books becomes national news, perhaps a company like Apple or Google might make a donation? Last year, Apple donated 9,000 iPads to teachers in impoverished schools in a partnership with Teach for America.

At the moment, cost remains a limiting factor in embracing digital textbooks. But there’s a quick fix that schools can make: Just open up your curriculum to embrace the internet and get away from those outdated books as much as possible. The content is all there for the taking, and students spend plenty of time on the internet anyways. The flipped classroom approach puts much of the curriculum online, and more teachers are embracing message boards from classroom management suites. A student isn’t going to learn much from a 12-year-old book filled with graffiti, and a parent won’t appreciate it either. Until digital textbooks become the standard in public schools, let’s start exploring modern options to replace the antiques.