A Kindle in Every Backpack

Every student would get an e-book device, proposes the Democratic Leadership Council in “A Kindle in Every Backpack.” From the New York Times:

Its authors argue that government should furnish each student in the country with a digital reading device, which would allow textbooks to be cheaply distributed and updated, and allow teachers to tailor an interactive curriculum that effectively competes for the attention of their students in the digital age.

The proposal would cost $9 billion more than the current print textbook budget, the authors estimate, but might save $700 million a year over traditional textbook purchases by the fifth year. Or not.

Developing the content of textbooks costs money — and it will cost even more to make the new e-books interactive and whizz-bangy.  (My husband authored college engineering textbooks; it takes time and skill to do it right.)

I don’t doubt that the paper textbook is going to be obsolete soon, if only to save kids’ backs, but the drive to hand out Kindles to all reminds me of the drive to hand out laptops.  That was supposed to revolutionize learning too.

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  1. How will the Kindle make it past the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, if (as I read), the Act killed the One Laptop Per Child product?

  2. Homeschooling Granny says:

    I’m old enough to remember that a television set in every classroom was going to revolutionize education by bringing world-class teachers to every child!

  3. Or, we could give all students a little plastic card. With this card they could access tens of thousand of book titles simply by going to a building, located in every small and large town, and presenting said card. This building would provide a quite, clean and organized environment for all. We could do all this at public expense.

    Kindles, lap tops and library cards are just tools that provide access. Individuals have to want access. Convience students that they want access and the type of tool won’t matter.

  4. This is another Field of Dreams idea. If you build it they will come. Solve the problem by not addressing it, just throw more money, the latest technology, the magic pill and the desired results will materialze.

    The only solution is to address motive.

  5. Granny,

    Good point.

    The Hawaii DOE comandeers some of our public cable-access channels to distribute low production-value Math, Geology, and Anthropology lessons. Does this happen in your State? Broadcast radio and TV meet the criteria of “public goods”: non-exclusive in production (anyone can watch and there’s no way to charge for it) and non-rival in consumption (my viewing doesn’t weaken the signal available to you). As such, it would pay large groups of States to combine their efforts and raise production values (get Disney animators to illustrate, teams of Nobel laureates to compose, and James Earl Jones or Jodie Foster to read the lessons.

    That this has not happened leads me to uspect that cable-access instruction does not serve an educational purpose. Cable-access instruction is a high-paid, do-nothing gig for some politician’s nephew.

  6. I recall two shows on cable that really impressed me:

    The Mechanical Universe. It was not a substitute for a good Physics teacher, but it was worth my time.

    The Great Books. I think it was a half hour on each book. The ones on the Odyssey and Sun Tus’s Art of War impressed me the most. They were not a substitute for the books, just preparation for reading and enjoying them.

  7. Stacy,

    I hear that place you mentioned gives you books for free; well, you have to bring them back in 4 weeks.

  8. Isn’t Kindle an Amazon product? I wonder how much lobbying they’ve been doing to get this plan going?

  9. “but might save $700 million a year over traditional textbook purchases by the fifth year”

    Talk about naive. In five years the Kindle will be obsolete and they’ll have to buy the all new Kindle 360 or Kindle 3000 Pro. Bye bye savings.

  10. Books were fine back when I was in high school. Why are they so big and heavy today? Is there more algebra to cram in them?

    No. The assumption is that kids are dumb and have ADD. They need flashy pictures of dolphins or kids on skateboards on every page just to keep the students’ attention. Textbooks today are not what I’d consider very useful for most students.

    But assume for a moment that an e-book will eliminate those problems. The only reason students don’t perform well is because their textbooks aren’t so great, right? Give them a better book/e-book and performance will skyrocket, right? Yeah, right.

  11. Scott Lewis - TEACHER says:

    I teach in a one laptop per child school. This sounds like a great ide but it is not! An ereader only gives you access to the content on the reader. FOR LESS MONEY you can get and give access to netbook computers, use ubuntu (linux) operating system (IT IS FREE!!)to cut virus issues to zero, move all work products to “the cloud” (google docs etc) and have real time access to all of the information in the world. Who is against it? Text book publishers ask $125 per book and more in some cases (125 X 4 = NEW LAPTOP COMPUTER!)

    There was a time and place for straight row, teacher knows all, never question education; but that time is GONE. The wolrd is changing too fast, the skills needed are different, and the wonderful world of the printed page has a hard time keeping up with how students deal with information in a digital world.

    I LOVE TO READ! I encourage all of my studnets to read anythign and everything they can (comic books too)but with standards based education being force fed to all terachers it is time to free the information and free the creativity of our students.

  12. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    I am reading this on a notebook that cost less than a Kindle.Give us a $25 Kindle and perhaps.

  13. Kirk Parker says:

    The proposal would cost $9 billion more than the current print textbook budget… but might save $700 million a year over traditional textbook purchases by the fifth year. Or not.

    Wow, even if it saved $700k/yr starting in year one, it will never pay for itself–the Kindles can’t possibly have an expected lifespan of 12+ years, which is what is required to offset the $9b increase in $700k/hr increments. Yes, I can do the math, even though my math textbooks were all of the old-fashioned, non-Kindle kind.

  14. And what happens when the kid drops the backpack? Or when the bully grabs the backpack and “spikes” it down on the ground?

    Books may seem an outmoded technology, but I suspect it’s a lot harder to wreck a book than wreck a Kindle.

    (And what about Kindles being stolen or pawned? Around here there was a minor scandal a few years back with a coats-for-kids program: turns out some of the parents were taking the nicer coats to resale shops, selling them, using the money on themselves, and their kids STILL were cold).

    And is it wrong of me to resent that my tax dollars might be spent on giving out for free to kids something I don’t own myself, because I am too cheap to buy one for myself (plus, with some 5500 books in my house, I don’t really NEED one.)

  15. The idea is a bad idea, not because paper texts are less expensive or any great shakes – they’re not – but because the Kindle is bad overpriced and inefficient technology.

    Providing students with netbooks (or having them buy their own, for those of you who think any government expense is communism) will provide free access to the world’s literature without Kindle’s proprietary technology, invasive content management, and high costs.

    When textbooks – especially at higher education levels – can cost $100, the savings of a $250 netbook become apparent – but only if your not paying $99 for the electronic version of the textbook. Electronic media works only if costs for digital materials are substantially less than paper materials.

    And they can be. Indeed, the cost for most digital materials is tending toward zero. Only when a distributor can lock you into a proprietary platform does the cost remain high. Open access materials – everything from Project Gutenberg to Wikipedia to Media Awareness Network – will deliver the savings Kindle cannot.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    The DLC thinks this will impress the computer-illiterate and the computer over-literate (nerds).
    And “we’re doing something”. And there will need to be ‘crats to administer this.
    And when it doesn’t work, the fact that the next new idea is promoted by the folks who hosed it this time will be forgotten.

  17. Blacque Jacques Shellacque says:

    Might wanna hold off on the Kindle thing until some things get ironed out…

  18. The beauty of the Kindle boondoggle is that Amazon has already exercised its option to delete books from Kindles (see M. Shellacque’s comment), recently). That means they could delete everything at the end of each semester and let the students buy new ones.
    They’re right about this: “Textbooks are too expensive.” Kindle is not the solution.
    Besides, I have this strange image of students with their laptops and Kindles at the local bookstore, diligently marking the important parts on the Kindle screen with yellow highlighter.
    Maybe when Kindles can present an 8.5 x 11″ screen (or more), they might make a good medium for reading.
    All in all, it sounds like another Democratic “ready – fire – aim” proposal.

  19. I agree with those who say the Kindle is a bad idea because it’s inefficient and limiting. The kids in my school each have an Eeepc. They’re durable, can do most of what a regular laptop can can do, and are available for about $300 each.

    Re. books being more big and heavy now than they used to be: The issue isn’t just big and heavy. It’s printing costs and the ability to update with a push of a button, rather than printing whole new editions. Also, schools are assigning more and more homework to young kids. When I was in elementary school, we didn’t have to lug any books home, much less two or three. For an 8-yr-old, that’s heavy. Many middle and high schools have done away with lockers for security reasons. The kids are carrying books all day. Whether or not you agree with these two developments, but they’ve happened.

    Jumping on the latest technology bandwagon just because it’s coming by isn’t a great idea. However, we changed over from hornbooks and slates at one point. Sooner than later, digital texts are coming, and kids need to learn to use computers intelligently to function in today’s world. Paper texts are going to go the way of paper newspapers and multi-volume hard copy encyclopedias, not because people are excited about bells and whistles, but because paper texts are neither efficient nor cost-effective. For clarification: I’m talking about text books, NOT literature.

    Many elementary school texts, at least in CA, are already available in digital as well as hard copy. My students can access complete copies of their social studies, science, and math texts, along with additional information, from any PC with an internet connection. It’s not a big step.