Apple Education Event – Beyond the Hardware

After Apple’s Education Event today it was to be expected that guys like Joshua Topolsky were going to have their heads up their asses asking Apple representatives how they were going to get iPads to schoolkids. I mean it’s not like Apple has a decades long history of working together with schools and Universities. Oh wait, THEY DO.

But that’s not the problem here. The problem isn’t the hardware. There are a lot of problems in the US educational system and trust me, getting each kid an iPad won’t be a problem.

One problem are Teachers‘ Unions of course. But the main one is how Textbooks are written, revised and put together.

You see one would expect that in a regular Textbook today you would find information according to the standards of science. And you’d be wrong.

Science is the last thing that’s really important when it comes to what is in a Textbook for american (high)schools today. Long before scientific information come financial interests, namely the interests of the textbook publishers to sell their textbooks to as many schools in the country as possible. What they have to do to ensure high amounts of books sold is to cater to the demands of the government bodies that decide what books to buy, namely the State School Board of Education. And after that the individual schools‘ Boards of Education.

And if you expect for scientists to be on these school boards you’d be wrong. Because School/State Boards of Education are elected and put together from regular people living in the respective state and trustees of the schools, and the percentage of professors among regular people is low. The percentage of professors having free time to spend on School Boards is even lower.

So what to expect from these elected board members is that they „might“ have an agenda. Nothing more – nothing less.

There are countless cases of School Boards trying to get their own ideas of what happened in the Earths history into textbooks. Most of the time these records are about the state of Texas.

Here are a couple of examples:

2009-03-28 – Bad Astronomy – Texas – doomed
2011-03-05 – Bad Astronomy – Creationist McLeroy loses in Texas election
2010-03-14 – Bad Astronomy – Texas conservatives screw history

Other cases are listed on the Archives of  The Skeptics Guide of the Universe Podcast.

And here’s a link to NPR: Despite Court Rulings, Creationism Still Taught In Many American Classrooms

I guess most of you have heard about stuff like this, but to those who haven’t, here’s the tl;dr version.

Extreme Religious groups who think the earth is only 12.000 years old and man lived among dinosaurs like Fred Flintstone (e.g. creationists), climate change deniers, pro life anti-abortionists, Anti Vaxxers and other zealots are getting themselves elected to the (State) School Boards of Education to get their ideas of what is „correct“ (e.g. their version of history and science) into the textbooks.

I know this sounds alarmist, I know I myself now sound like a political figurehead but this is, plain and straight, a fact. Visit the links or put your own search terms into Google. This topic is basically the same as back in the day when the catholic church made Galileo  recant that the earth is round. They are basically doing the same thing.

Now I guess folks like those „reporters“ who thought that Siri had a pro life bias because it wasn’t able to direct an iPhone 4S user to the next available abortion clinic would use this information to skewer the message to take away from todays Apple Educational Event to get the message out that Apple is trying to get their foot into textbook market trying to inject their (insert something your viewers/listeners hate here) bias.

But the problem is the role of Texas in this system of textbook publishers trying to sell books. Since Texas is the largest state in the US, many other states trying to save themselves time and effort just buy the same textbooks Texas buys and approves of. With this every moronic decision in the State School Board of Education in Texas doesn’t only make the schoolkids in Texas dumber. It makes ALL schoolkids in the US dumber by injecting their own bias into textbooks.

Literally. This is not a joke. There are a ton of schools in Texas that make it mandatory to teach Biology and Creationism as equal „theories“ of how life on earth came to be.

Think about this.

Nobody at the moment really cares about this. But just you wait until Apple rejects a textbook that’s plain and straight anti-science. Nobody is going to blame a Texan. Everybody is going to blame Cupertino.

If Apple manages to get the firm grip of Texas‘ School Boards off of textbooks, lowering overall costs for textbooks and putting the decision on what book is good and what book isn’t into peer review, even if it is just the peer review of the users on the iTunes Bookstore, everybody wins. Finally you will be able to just look up a famous Professor’s website and read up on what he or she recommends and then with the click of a button buy a textbook on iTunes for an amount that is far less than what a textbook costs today. Finally the School Board hearings that became battlegrounds of science against religion in Texas during the past couple of decades could be done and over with.

Of course this doesn’t mean that anti-science won’t be present in everyday life anymore. The interesting question is how the trolling on the School Educational Board hearings (by the board members, mind you) will move to the iTunes Bookstore and how and if Creationists, Anti-Vaxxers and Pro Life advocates as well as Astrologers and Xenobiologists hunting Bigfoot might start to put their own textbooks together (not even mentioning the Homeopathy nuts out there), publishing them on the iTunes Bookstore.

Get ready for the next big news cyle when these „interests groups“ will start accusing Apple of pushing their own agenda when a book is not allowed on the iTunes Bookstore that puts humankind next to Dinosaurs, telling your kids that the earth was created 12,000 years ago by god.

This is going to be „fun“.

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