Presenting suburban growth and the role of race differently in high school textbooks

A longer look at state differences in history textbooks includes this bit about suburban growth:


HistoryTextbooksSuburbsJan1220no2We cannot fully understand places and communities without knowing about how race and ethnicity plays a part in the story. It is clear that the past included a whole host of legal and informal structures existed from the beginning of suburbs to keep non-whites out. This included: redlining, sundown towns, refusing potential homeowners in Levittown, government policies that helped whites move from cities, and exclusionary zoning. I argue this is one of the reasons suburbanites like suburbs so much: they were able to exclude those they did not want to live near. Some of these techniques, and more recent ones, still work to help keep some suburbs more homogeneous even as more immigrants and non-white residents moved to suburbia and residential segregation has decreased.

Without widespread knowledge of how the American suburbs developed, perhaps this is why exist videos like “The Disturbing History of the Suburbs” exist. The suburbs may not be only about race – I list six other factors that matter as well though the seven factors are all intertwined – but suburbs are not simply the result of neutral free-market forces. Understanding what helped create the suburbs and gives social life in suburbs today its shape will help give future suburbanites, perhaps a majority of Americans, better operate within their context and potentially shape new kinds of suburbs.

Thief caught stealing used sociology textbook at IPFW

Here is a story you don’t see everyday: a thief was caught stealing a used sociology textbook from the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne bookstore.

A Fort Wayne man is facing a charge of felony theft for allegedly stealing a used sociology textbook.

Surveillance video at Follett’s bookstore at IPFW showed Neil W. White leaving the store without paying for the book, “Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials,” which cost $139.50, according to court papers.

White, 29, told an IPFW police detective that he stole the book, and he also admitted taking textbooks from the store 10 to 12 other times, court papers stated.

A few thoughts:

1. This guy needed a sociology textbook so bad that he stole it?

2. The bookstore was asking nearly $140 for a used copy of a intro to sociology textbook? It looks like you can buy this new at Amazon for $110 and used for around $70.

3. Have sociologists really ever gotten behind a cheaper textbooks movement or even gone so far to use the “steal this book” marketing campaign? If not, you would think sociologists might support this given their ideological commitments.

The real question to ask about the iBooks 2, textbook killer: will it help students learn?

There is a lot of buzz about the iBooks 2 but I have a simple question: will students learn more using it? In one description of the new program, this isn’t really covered:

Yet, the iPad offers a big opportunity for students to get excited about learning again. The iPad has already demonstrated it can help children with learning disabilities make leaps in bounds in their development, and schools have already invested heavily in Apple’s tablet. Roughly 1.5 million iPads are currently in use in educational institutions.

Schiller said that the problem with textbooks is not the content, which is “amazing,” but the weight of the physical book. They need to last five or six years when they’re written, and they’re not very durable or interactive. Searching is also difficult.

At that point, Schiller introduced iBooks 2, which has a new textbook experience for the iPad. The first demonstration showed what it’s like to open a biology textbook, and see an intro movie playing right before you even get to the book’s contents. When you get to the book itself, images are large and beautiful, and thumbnails accompany the text. To make searching easier, all users need to do is tap on a word and they go straight to the glossary and index section in the back of the book…

Jobs had long hoped to bring sweeping changes to higher education for much of his life. When he left Apple and launched NeXT in 1986, Jobs wanted the company’s first computer — a distinctive all-black magnesium cube — to be designed specifically for higher education establishments and what Jobs called “aggressive end users.”…

“‘The process by which states certify texbooks is corrupt,’ he said. ‘But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent the whole process and save money.'”

Based on this article, I see five things that are good about iBooks 2: it will excite students, it is lighter to use so don’t have to carry so much weight around, it will be cheaper for everyone in the long run, there are some cool features like searching and embedded videos, and it could make Apple a lot of money (and presumably traditional textbook publishers will lose money unless they adapt?).

But, we have been told for decades that better technology in the classroom, computers, laptops, the Internet, etc., will lead to improvements in learning and test scores. Isn’t this how iBooks 2 should be measured? It is good if kids are excited about learning again but will this tool actually help them learn more? The technology may be better and cheaper in the long run but this doesn’t necessarily mean it will lead to improvements in the education system.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that iPads or iBooks 2 can’t lead to better learning but I would want to know a lot more about its effect on educational outcomes before simply adopting the technology.

The role of sociology in Illinois learning standards for social science for grades 1-5

Building on a post from yesterday about textbook errors in sociology textbooks for fifth-graders in Macedonia, I was interested in knowing more about Illinois learning standards for social science for grades 1-5. Here are the five goals related to social science (pgs. 3-6 of the PDF):

Goal 14 – Understand political systems, with an emphasis on the United States.
The preservation and advancement of a free society within a constitutional democracy demands an informed, competent, and humane citizenry. Toward this end, civic education must be provided to students to help them learn, practice, and demonstrate the traits of a responsible citizen. This goal can be accomplished through developmental steps by giving students the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to illustrate their understanding of the following…

Goal 15: Understand economic systems, with an emphasis on the United States.
People’s lives are directly affected by the economies around them. All people engage in economic activity: saving, investing, trading, producing and consuming. By understanding economic systems and learning the economic way of thinking, students will be able to make informed choices and more effectively use resources. Such understanding benefits both individuals and society as a whole…

Goal 16 – Understand events, trends, individuals and movements shaping the history of Illinois, the United States and other nations. History encompasses the whole of human experience, from the earliest times to the present. As such, it provides perspectives on how the forces of continuity and change have shaped human life, both our own and others’. The study of history involves more than knowing the basic names, dates, and places associated with an event or episode. This knowledge is an essential first step to historical interpretation of the past, but historical study also moves on to a methodology that develops a deeper understanding within an individual…

Goal 17: Understand world geography and the effects of geography on society, with an emphasis on the United States. The study of geography is a lifelong learning process vital to the well being of students, the state of Illinois, the United States, and the world. As an integrative discipline that brings together the physical and human dimensions of the world, geography strives to make sense out of the spatial arrangements of people, places, and environments on Earth. Geography is a field of study that enables us to find answers to questions about the world around us. Geographers ask and attempt to answer questions about where something is located, why it is there, how it got there, how it is connected to other things and places, how it is arranged in relation to other things, and the significance of its location…

Goal 18 – Understand social systems, with an emphasis on the United States. Humans belong to groups from the moment of birth. In order to better understand their roles as individuals and group members of a diverse society, students must know and understand how culture has changed and how it is expressed. Students should also understand how and why groups and institutions are formed. When students understand these concepts, they are better able to contribute to their community and society.

I suppose sociology would fit mostly into Goal 18 though anthropology could also fit here with the emphasis on culture. But it is pretty clear in these goals that politics, economics, history, and geography are emphasized and these disciplines are more clearly described.

Before these goals (pg. 3 of the PDF), there is some clarity about the disciplines involved in the social sciences: “Among the integrated social science disciplines are political science, economics, history, geography, sociology, anthropology, and psychology.” And later in the document (pg. 76), in the glossary specifically for Goal 18, here is the definition of sociology: “Sociology: The scientific and positivistic study of society.”

It would be interesting to know more about how these goals were developed. A later portion of the document doesn’t suggest that the forming of Goal 18 was guided by national or state advisory groups; however, two sociology textbooks that are cited in the bibliography.

In practice, is the term sociology ever used with students in connection with these goals? Do common textbooks ever use the term? Is sociology introduced to students regularly before high school or college? The social science standards for grades 6-12 perhaps allow for a little more room (see page 60 of the PDF).

Errors in sociology textbooks for fifth-graders in Macedonia?

As part of a story about the larger “textbook trauma” in Macedonia, there was this interesting tidbit:

Widespread mistakes in Macedonian textbooks came to light last year when journalists wrote about an error-riddled sociology text for fifth-graders. The scandal resulted in the recall of that book and a massive, ongoing review of all of the country’s textbooks. Corrections and new books have still not been released, and in the meantime teachers and parents are essentially on their own to police the existing books…

In the case of the sociology textbook that started the controversy, the government spent 1 million denars ($22,000) to withdraw and replace a reported 15,400 copies. Among its shortcomings: listing popular entertainers alongside venerated names as lights of Macedonian culture; two visual depictions of the prophet Muhammad; no listing of Catholicism among the country’s faiths; contradictory estimates on the percentage of the population that is Muslim; and mistaken depictions of the flags of Macedonia and Kosovo.

The Education Ministry has sued the book’s panel of reviewers for the cost of pulping and replacing it.

The sociology book that took its place states, mistakenly, that Greece has a coastline along the Adriatic Sea.

The fact that textbooks contain errors is not surprising: sociologist James Louwen pointed some key American examples in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. But these errors seem quite problematic for an area of the world where there is a (tenuous?) blend of cultures and countries.

What is more interesting to me is that fifth-graders in Macedonia have sociology textbooks. Perhaps these books are similar to geography or history books but having sociology in the schools at younger ages sounds great. Students should learn about their own culture and society as well as think about how it differs from other societies. Perhaps they don’t need sociological theory at that point (Weber and Durkheim for fifth-graders?) but this could be a good start.

The future of textbooks: online and free?

Traditional textbooks can be problematic: they often are costly, hefty, and have difficulty keeping up current research and trends. But a new biology textbook may be paving the way for a change in the textbook field:

Within 2 1/2 years, the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, named after the naturalist and founder, hopes to complete a 59-chapter digital textbook about biology called Life on Earth. As each chapter is finished, the foundation plans to put it into the hands of anyone who wants it. For free…

“No publisher is doing what we’re doing, which is developing, from scratch, a serious digital textbook,” Patterson said. He added that only $1 million of that funding — half of it from Life Technologies Foundation — is in place, and the remaining $9 million remains to be seen from private and public donors. “It’s expensive, but once you’re done you can keep it up to date across time, globally, essentially free of charge.”

The foundation plans to sell university-level editions for about 10 percent of the cost of the average print textbook, in part to fund that continuous updating. Kindergarten through 12th grade editions will be free.

Patterson said the idea is to provide any student in the world unprecedented learning tools, but acknowledged imminent backlash from profit-seeking publishers.

In some ways, this seems like a mash-up between traditional textbooks and Wikipedia: a constantly updated online text that is authoritative and offers video and other Web 2.0 features.

If the online version is to be used with classes, is there also an assumption that students will have the textbook open on their laptops? This would require all students to have some sort of viewing technology and there are other problems associated with laptops in the classroom.

It sounds like a major issue here might be funding: who is going to pay for all of this writing and computer work? What happens if the foundation can’t raise sufficient funds from donors?

Teaching 9/11 in schools

Now that we are nine years removed from September 11, 2001, this is something I’ve wondered: how do schools teach about this day? According to the Christian Science Monitor, there seems to be a variety of approaches.

Another place to look would be school textbooks. With evidence that textbooks either just plain get it wrong or present biased perspectives, how younger generations learn about 9/11 will be something to watch.

Overall, both specific school lessons and textbooks will help shape the American collective memory regarding the event. This collective memory can take time to develop and is likely to be controversial; just look at how long the 9/11 memorial is taking to shape up at Ground Zero.

Teach from the newspapers

A physics professor at Iowa State suggests that schools should move beyond textbooks and instead teach material based on current news stories:

I have a suggestion for Iowa schools: Don’t buy those [Texas-influenced] textbooks. Instead, buy local and state newspapers as reading material in sociology, history and literature courses. Buy paperback books from bookstores. Let our students read real news, in real time, and let them confront opinion pages and conflicting viewpoints.

An interesting argument. There is certainly plenty of material in newspapers and news magazines that could be used in the classroom. I am particularly intrigued by the suggestion he makes that students should be asked to fill in the “missing information” in a news story – this could work in a number of subject as journalists often leave out much of the relevant backstory.

Another added benefit of this technique (even in limited use): students see that the specific discipline is relevant in the real world. I think a lot of them ask this basic question and linking discipline-specific content to real stories suggests the course can be or is valuable to them rather than just a requirement to fulfill.