By JUSTIN B. HOLLANDER October 16, 2012
LAST week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared a war on paper textbooks. “Over the next few years,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club, “textbooks should be obsolete.” In their place would come a variety of digital-learning technologies, like e-readers and multimedia Web sites. 按图放大
Such technologies certainly have their place. But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet. And while e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous. A renowned expert on reading, Maryanne Wolf, has recently begun studying the effects of digital reading on learning, and so far the results are mixed. She worries that Internet reading, in particular, could be such a source of distractions for the student that they may cancel out most other potential benefits of a Web-linked, e-learning environment. And while it’s true that the high-tech industry has sponsored substantial amounts of research on the potential benefits of Web-based learning, not enough time has passed for longitudinal studies to demonstrate the full effects. In addition, digital-reading advocates claim that lightweight e-books benefit students’ backs and save schools money. But the rolling backpack seems to have solved the weight problem, and the astounding costs to outfit every student with an e-reader, provide technical support and pay for regular software updates promise to make the e-textbook a very pricey option. As both a teacher who uses paper textbooks and a student of urban history, I can’t help but wonder what parallels exist between my own field and this sudden, wholesale abandonment of the technology of paper. For example,...