When are Books Better, and When are They Not?

A recent New York Times article discusses how textbooks may be going the way of the record player and the land line phone. Writer Tamar Lewin quotes the chief technology officer for a Louisiana school system (Gee, my school, didn’t have a “chief technology officer.” Oh wait! We did! But we called him the AV guy.) as saying that high school kids today are “digitally nimble” and “don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear, and rote.”

The new trend is toward web sites, online courses, and even blogs as materials to replace textbooks in some high school classrooms.

A school superintendent is quoted as saying, ” . . . we need to get out of that [brick-and-mortar] framework to having 200 or 300 kids taking courses online, at night, . . .”

The article goes into much more detail about all of this, and all of the issues it brings up, such as:

  • how to deal with students who don’t have computers at home
  • how textbook companies will react to this shift away from their dinosauric product
  • how school systems will create, verify, and standardize curricula that include such sometimes transient sources as web sites

But, I like the idea that schools are thinking about the fact that their customers (students) are much more comfortable with a keyboard than with a book. For better or ill, today’s teens have grown up in a fast-paced society, and even the newer-style non-fiction children’s books that I find too busy and info-packed are probably too slow-moving for them.

So, I say “Way to go! Bring on the high-school ditigal revolution!”

But —

when it comes to the little ones, I say “Please give them books.” Little ones are able to concentrate intensely. They are tactile. They can focus on an image and draw countless bits of meaning from it. They can memorize text without realizing they are memorizing it — if it is pleasing to their ears and is read again and again by a loving voice.

Among the “textbooks” I recommend for the little ones:

  • biographies that you can find in your library’s juvenile biography section, such as Eleanor by Barbara Cooney (an amazingly good writer) and Beatrix by Jeanette Winter.

As a little one grows, she may prefer clicking and scrolling to turning a page, or she may not. But when they are little, when they can be mesmerized by a color, or by a word, and when they have little hands eager to hold things, hug things, and stroke things, give them books.

Cover illustration of Beatrix by Jeanette Winter

Cover illustration of Beatrix by Jeanette Winter


8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    sunnymama said,

    Thanks for the book recommendations! They look good books 🙂

  2. 3

    hibethany said,

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog…it’s a work in progress. Thanks also for this great New York Times article. Your site has been so helpful in my research about unschooling. I’m finding it so fascinating! Your family is an inspiration to me.

    All the Best,


  3. 5

    Aimee said,

    I realize we are in a technological age, but I just love books! We have soooo many in our house and I just keep buying more!

    • 6

      sgaissert said,

      I know, Aimee. Our living room already has a bookshelf high up near the ceiling all along one wall, and I think I need another one in the dining room. But I would never part with my books!

  4. 7

    I feel very fortunate that my kids all love books despite the fact that they also interface very well with a tv or computer.

    There is something very special about holding a book and about feeling the paper as we run our hands across a page – especially with an older book.

    Like you, i think it is wonderful that schools are making an effort to think in new directions. Certainly updating materials will be more efficient and less expensive in a more computer oriented classroom, and funds will be available for other equipment or activities. One of the saddest things in the world is a school that has not enough equipment and books to go around, or whose materials are outdated enough to no longer be accurate.

    Thanks for the link. I think I will enjoy reading the article.


    • 8

      sgaissert said,

      Thanks for your comment, Ruby. I hadn’t thought of the economic benefit that digitizing brings to schools — once they have the technology in place. Thanks again,

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