Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 10, 2013

Can we judge an iPad by its cover or are textbooks still the way to go?

By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Television is very educational — every time somebody turns on the set, I go into another room and read a book. Although I wish I had said that, it was Groucho Marx who made the remark. Those of us in the Baby Boomer generation often have that feeling about the importance of books. Yet, the time may have come to if not change, at least adjust, our way of thinking.

I will probably begin with my classes next week saying at some point, I told you so. For the past few years, I have told my students that they are holding history in their hands — that being the books they are using. A recent story noted that Raleigh County Schools is integrating the iPad into classes and within the next five years, the computer units are likely to replace textbooks in the Raleigh school system. That comes as no surprise.

Textbooks are larger than ever, more expensive, and the information in any edition can only be updated by supplements or new editions. School libraries are already changing. Fewer copies of actual books are being ordered and the on-line resources are growing daily. In fact, many schools no longer call them “libraries” but media centers. Librarians are now increasingly known as media specialists.

Remember the old days when we passed books down from one grade to another? If you were a year behind someone, you made arrangements to buy their book(s) before the next school year started. That was in the day when textbooks were not “free” but had to be purchased individually by each child.

It was not a bad idea, either. Investment usually compels more concern. We have a natural tendency to take better care of what we have to pay for ourselves. Those old books lasted for years in part because they cost money and our parents made certain we understood that. I also suspect that paper used to be higher quality in those days!

A generation or two ago we had a personal interest in those textbooks. Why, there were even times, if we were lucky, that we could persuade a good student to hand down their notebooks along with the text. Is there anyone else who benefited from having a really good set of notes to go along with the book itself? Fortunate indeed was the person who got both in hand heading into a new school year.

It was always interesting to see just who had used the book before you got it and sometimes(!) very helpful when the previous owner had penciled in any significant answers. Sometimes you could find crossed-out areas where (former) girlfriends or boyfriends’ names had been.

In the days before highlighters became popular, underlining was often the choice of emphasis. Stars, quotation marks, and asterisks were common, too. Sometimes passages were circled. Girls who knew shorthand often made marks in the margins that those of us who were “uneducated” never understood. Brackets helped point out significant passages and notes like “remember this for test” were fabulous, since one often got the same teacher. There were lots of little touches in those old school texts.

Still, books will likely never be completely replaced. There is simply something about holding a book in one’s hand that a plastic tablet with electronically-coordinated words cannot compete with. I like to think that the Good Book, for instance, is called that for a reason. Can you imagine the preacher saying ‘Let us all turn to the iPad of First Thessalonians’ or something like that? Come on.

Books are still wonderful no matter what form we must use them in. As a teacher I am simply happy to have my students reading. A good reader can almost always do well in school and in life. Communication is truly a wonderful thing and books have been important platelets in the bloodstream of ideas for centuries.

As Groucho would say, Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.