books = big biceps


As promised, here's my extended rant about Schwarzenegger and the textbook ban. I'm surprised I haven't heard more about this in the news. I first came across the story nearly a month ago and it's been sitting in the blog queue since then. Good thing I read lots of heavy books because now I can flex some pretty impressive writing muscles.

head in a book

Mr. Schwarzenegger announced the ban on textbooks in a classroom in Sacramento, holding up four large text books and joking: "I can use these for the (bicep) curls."
There's just something so wrong about that statement. Why Arnie? Why?
"Textbooks are outdated, in my my opinion," he said. "For so many years, we've been trying to teach exactly the same way. Our kids gets their information from the internet, downloaded onto their iPods, and in Twitter feeds to their cellphones... Basically kids are feeling as comfortable with their electronic devices as I was with my pencils and crayons. So why are California's school students still forced to lug around antiquated, heavy, expensive textbooks? (via

Isn't anyone else concerned by this? Or at least the tiniest bit curious about the implications of banning textbooks in the classroom? Maybe it's just the wannabe academic in me, but this topic both depresses and intrigues me. I'm fascinated by the cognitive changes that have come about due to shifts in technology, particularly when it comes to reading. Compare reading a newspaper to an article online. The differences are not so subtle. Our eyes move across the text in new patterns, our level of concentration varies, our mind wanders. Reading text on a physical page versus reading text on a screen is very different. One does not simply replace the other. Like Neil Postman said, "technology giveth and technology taketh away." I wonder how much thought the Californians have given to this.

I decided that this topic warranted a bit more reading (I wanted some scholarly advice), so after a trip to Google Scholar I came upon this article from by Wendy Sutherland-Smith, Weaving the literacy Web, Changes in Reading from page to screen (The Reading Teacher, Newark: Apr 2002. Vol. 55, Iss. 7; pg. 662, 8 pgs). The abstract drew me in, Sutherland-Smith explores the unique reading strategies needed for the World Wide Web. She considers additions needed in the repertoire of teaching reading strategies when computers are the medium. Although written in 2002, the strategies she proposes are still relevant and probably still not as widely known as they should be. While I will quote extensively from the article, I do suggest that you click through and read it.

This textbook ban has more far-reaching implications that just being a cost-saving measure. It will have a significant impact on literacy (both positive and negative). According to the UNESCO position paper on The Plurality of Literacy and its implications for Policies and Programs 'literacy' is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society. It's a no brainer that literacy is important. But as Sutherland-Smith states, "Clearly, literacy is not a static concept. Leu (1997) saw it as a "deictic" term, because "it's meaning is continually changing, dependent upon the technological context in which it occurs" (p.62). So what is meant when we talk about web literacy? Sutherland-Smith explains,
Web Literacy is a term for finding, scanning, digesting, and storing Internet information. It is "an ability to recognize and assess a wide range of rhetorical situations and an attentiveness to the information conveyed in the source's non-textual features" (Corapure et al. 1998, p.410). This understanding is significant, as it represents a "fundamental change" (Leu, 2000, p. 424) in thinking about being literate in the 21st Century. The speed and degree of change that Web literacy brings to teaching reading is an implementation challenge for us teachers. As Sorapure et al. pointed out, the web is a "vast, open , and uncategorized library, and one in which reference librarians are nowhere to be found" (p.410). The Internet can be an intimidating and difficult medium to manage, with its constant rapid changes, but technology skills are essential for survival in the 21st century. Therefore students and teachers must be competent and more important, comfortable with the medium... Web literacy demands an incorporation of key reading or navigation skills. These include accessing information, analysing information (including multimedia), and processing procedures to store or move text. While these skills appear to be the same as those used with print text, academic writers tend to agree that Web literacy involves expanding critical reading skills to incorporate evaluation of visual and nontextual features and a greater use of associative logic (see Bolter, 1991; Burbules, 1997; Charney, 1994; Leu, 1996; Reinking, 1998; Shetzer and Warschauer, 2000; Snyder, 1999).
I do think Arnie was right about one thing (or at least I agree with the sentiment he was trying to convey), the way we access the majority of our information has changed and continues to change. Although where he gets this idea that kids are the ones on Twitter I'm not quite sure... and maybe the iPod Touch is more ubiquitious in California, but I don't think that kids are accessing the majority of the information they access online through their mp3 payers, nor do I think its a reasonable comparison to parallel pencils and crayons to electronic devices. Nevertheless, I do think it's important that we adjust to those shifts in information access. But we need to keep in mind that technology is not neutral, and we shouldn't just cast aside the old ways of doing things in favour of some glossy new 'improvement'. Surely that's common sense. However, as Sutherland-Smith continues, when it comes to technology in education some advocate an even more extreme approach.

Many writers oppose using technology in classrooms and advocate a critical approach to the issue of technology. Birkets (1994) and Postman (1995) believed that the advent of computer technology will lead to an impoverishment of the English language. They contended that poor concentration skills in dealing with lengthy and deep textual reading, poor writing skills, and a superficial understanding of issues, due to the lack of depth in reading, will result from Technology in English teaching classrooms. Stoll (1995, p.26) added that he "rarely finds prose that's articulate and create" from the "mediocre writing and poorly thought-out arguments" of Internet-based writing. Leu (1996), whilst supporting the advent of digital literacy, advocated that we keep the concerns of Birkerts (1994) and Stoll (1995) in mind, or "we may become familiar with much but understand little" (p.163).

Having written about Postman before, it's not secret that I am a fan of his views about how technology is affecting society. However, I'd like to put it forward that I am not against the integration of technology in the classroom. Quite the contrary really, I'm a big proponent of it. However, it needs to be done properly. I've worked in a setting where new and exciting technology had been introduced to students without the majority of the teachers having any understanding of how to properly use the tools or integrate them into the curriculum. It was maddening to see how both the students and teachers were struggling to use the tools effectively. Although there were a select few who managed to use the tool to their advantage, for the majority, due to the lack of appropriate instruction (for both teachers and students), the technology proved to be more of a hindrance to any real progress (albeit a flashy and exciting one). I don't think the teachers were to blame for this (many didn't have any choice about whether or not the technology would be used in the classroom, they were told it had to integrated but then not given appropriate direction how to do so). It was more a fundamental problem with the way this particular program was rolled out. It was almost as if the technology came first and then a problem was sought out for that technology to solve. But that's a backwards approach.

More from Sutherland-Smith,

As a teacher operating in both print-based and technology mediated classrooms, I
consider it crucial to institute that critical evaluation of the manner in which technology is used in the classroom. This means not only evaluating reading and writing products or technology programs, but also investigating whether technology is being used simply because it is technology (see also Lankshear, Snyder & Green, 2000). It is, however, implausible that the impact that the Internet is having on society and education can be ignored. In fact, "the Web has already entered our classrooms as we debate its value and its effects." (Sorapure et al. 1998, p.412), and we, as teachers, must weave the expanding web of technology into our classroom

...a critical perspective must be maintained as to the purposes and appropriateness of technology in our classrooms, as teachers we are required to assist our students with new Web text reading strategies. In addition, we need to become "technology critics as well as technology users" (Selfe & Selfe, 1994, p.484) in order to effectively implement education policy for our students.

I think what bothers me most about this textbook ban is the seeming lack of critical perspective. When the "problem" that is being solved with the ban of textbooks/introduction of tecnology in the classroom is the state of the Californian economy, it is difficult for me to believe that the state of education is really being taken into consideration. As if technology will somehow save California from bankruptcy. Doesn't it seem that any money that is saved will be at the expense of the students? What's the point of introducting a new technology in a classroom if the teachers and students aren't given the appropriate support? It's not as simple of replacing a book with an electronic version. Where is the money for improved infrastructure, will there be enough computers for all of the students? What about the digital divide - not everyone has a personal computer. What about the implications of reading from the internet? Do all teachers have the knowledge/training/understanding to provide students with appropriate strategies for how to read and learn from online material? It's not an even swap. Switching mediums opens up a whole new world of possibilities and challenges. It's sort of like stuffing a square peg into a round hole. In the words of the philosopher Derek Zoolander, "How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?"


  1. only had time to skim so far, but this is scary to me. How has this not made bigger news?