With the announcement today, “We’ve set the news free,” Nature takes another big step toward being the dominant cluster of science knowledge within the network that forms the commons. By making all of the news pieces free, Nature is releasing nodes of current science into the complexity of emergent online knowledge. Network laws can then manage these nodes cognitively so they become part of relevant patterns of knowledge to study and learn online.
An example of what that means will be the trajectory of a NatureNews story from last week called “Scientists supersize quantum mechanics.” That story is already prominent, showing up as number three on the list of search returns for “quantum news” on Google. There is more: Because NatureNews is opening its full Archives, the quantum story will remain in the network of ideas for as long as it is not replaced by a more elucidating and/or current story. Eventually, the story will fade as it is replaced by more current reports on the subject it covers. Teachers and students can stay informed of the latest in many sciences by connecting to NatureNews RSS feeds.
Although they have set the news free, many underlying articles at Nature remain limited to paid subscribers. That will change because those articles, when they are locked away from the commons by subscriptions, are downgraded by not being able to participate in the network that forms the online knowledge commons.
Today the Common Core State Standards Initiative is releasing proposed standards for what students should learn in K-12 English and math. As Nick Anderson writes in the Washington Post article about the announcement: “Instituting new academic standards would reverberate in textbooks, curriculum, teacher training and student learning from coast to coast.” Eventually, we can suppose, it will get to the kids — most certainly not in anything close to equal opportunities to learn. The Exeter faculty will make sure their students master the concepts; at Dunbar not so much.
There is a wonderful new way to have a common core for what students learn: use the global knowledge commons emerging online. For example, let’s hope all of the books are put openly online that the governors and state school superintendents have proposed in the standards they are announcing today. Otherwise students at Dunbar may have more trouble locating a hardcopy of them all than youngsters in Evanston and Peoria.
The Washington Post gives this example of a math common core standard: “Eighth-graders would be expected to use linear equations to solve for an unknown and explain a proof of the Pythagorean theorem on properties of a right triangle — cornerstones of algebra and geometry.” Happily there are many places in the online commons to learn about Pythagorean proofs. Click the image for an example.
The major article in today’s New York Times Magazine is about how Texas dictates what students study in America’s public schools.
The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. . . . while technology is changing things, textbooks — printed or online — are still the backbone of education.
The Magazine article is themed around whether or not textbooks should teach that the Founders of the American Republic were Christians. Images of Jesus are Photoshopped into famous paintings. He is placed in the boat as George Washington crosses the Delaware and hovers above the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The article pretty much assumes — as most people still do — that what gets printed in textbooks is what our kids will be taught and learn. The question raised here is whether Jesus is in or out of the boat and Independence Hall. But as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, textbook substance has long since lost its rigor. A quick browse of the internet could inform as to what the Founders thought about faith, unaffected by what gets approved in Texas.
There is nothing new about the inadequacy and corruption of textbooks. When I taught World History in El Paso, Texas in 1961, I forbid my students to use the textbook issued to them because it was not history. It was chapters on world social issues not in chronological order. I provided a world timeline and lessons from Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization. The year I taught, a handsome textbook salesman came to town and wined and dined select, influential math teachers (all women) to seek their vote to accept his company’s textbooks for state approval. I heard gossip from ladies in El Paso math circles. Five years later, when I was working in Austin in a political campaign, I got to know a member of the Education Commission. I asked him if textbook approval was done on a “casting couch” and he said, “sure, that plays a big part.”
The section on findability in this website is devoted to describing the emergence of knowledge as it intertwingles in the online commons. There the crowd, not the couch or the zealot, determines quality and truth. The best knowledge is selected by network laws themselves. Mobiles will put this knowledge in the hands of students. As the Times article says, “technology is changing things.” Textbook arguments — and the mishmash of textbook selection history — are now moot because the online commons delivers superior knowledge.