NYT: $200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math.

Two founders of Sun Microsystems have created two nonprofits to bring open-source textbooks to kindergarten through high school classes.


I’m trying to figure out what the advantage is of creating a large foundation to produce and distribute free textbooks when there are already so many out there. I suppose there’s the possibility of editorial shaping of the text, or of perhaps meeting standards set by California or Texas, and thereby ensuring widespread adoption. Still, the top down model (and help me find a better name for this) reminds me of Mitch Kapor’s attempt at a free version of Lotus Agenda [wait–there’s actually a downloadable version!], or even Ted Nelson’s “failed” attempts to instantiate Xanadu.

I have an anti-authoritarian streak and am always drawn to these hopeless attempts to blow up various deathstars, while Nick keeps patiently reminding me that we have a ways to go yet. Does that make Nick Obiwan Kenobi or Grand Moff Tarkin?

From the article:

“We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks” in the United States, Mr. McNealy says. “It seems to me we could put that all online for free.”

The nonprofit Curriki fits into an ever-expanding list of organizations that seek to bring the blunt force of Internet economics to bear on the education market. Even the traditional textbook publishers agree that the days of tweaking a few pages in a book just to sell a new edition are coming to an end.

I suppose there’s some advantage to a central clearinghouse of free textbooks. It might make books like Steve Krause’s or Charlie Lowe’s Writing Spaces project more visible. Anyway, I’m rehashing old arguments. Move along.

Chandler project: http://chandlerproject.org/

Krause: http://stevendkrause.com/tprw/

Charles Lowe textbook project: http://bit.ly/ciJVEF


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