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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Monday, January 30, 2006

Open Source Textbooks

In the comments to "Schlosberg on Rushkoff," Joshua Holmes has some interesting ideas on the potential for open source online texts to challenge the power of traditional textbook companies:

....how is it that no one has created an open-source series of textbooks and posted them on-line? Textbooks are extraordinarily expensive, yet there are plenty of people with the expertise and know-how to put together excellent textbooks on elementary-level subjects. Heck, you could get 100 high school biology teachers and put together a stellar book on introductory biology, free and downloadable.

Textbook makers really have students, schools, and teachers over a barrel. I'm stunned teachers haven't done something about this (or perhaps, the teacher unions).

Well, the teachers probably have some rather smelly interests in common with the textbook companies. After all, they're likely to support technology that promotes independent learning about the same time they start recommending Ivan Illich and John Taylor Gatto. You know, the same day Judas Iscariot and Adolf Hitler line up in hell to get their new ice skates. It's probably not by accident, comrades, that the publik skool establishment tends to promote look-say over phonics. The invention of the phonic alphabet was one of the most democratically empowering revolutions in history. As Miss Daisy said, if you know your letters, you can read. Learning to sight-read whole words, on the other hand, is a throwback to ideographic writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphics, that make society dependent on a privileged mandarin class. Today's functionally illiterate or near-illiterate majority, manipulated by assorted educationists, social workers, and human resources apparatchiks, seems oddly familiar, does it not? In the society of the pig ignorant, the half-educated man is king.

Anyway, two other commenters came to the rescue with a lot of interesting links to online texts. Joel Schlosberg links to an article by Ben Crowell on the online textbook phenomenon, and to several online texts on physics and algebra,

Duncan links to a large online library of textbooks at Wikibooks; here's the site's introductory article.

As for me, the first thing Josh's comment brought to mind was M.I.T.'s Open Courseware project, which provides online syllabi and some lecture notes for a major part of their course catalogs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Open Courseware. Well that's just fucking great. I was hoping for an excuse to never need to leave the house ever again. Goddam Internet.

- Josh

January 30, 2006 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your interpretation of how to teach reading and writing is interesting. I'd love to hear about it if you have any opinions regarding spelling reform or artificial languages.

Five or ten years ago, I was rather interested in Cut Spelling and Esperanto, as ways of making language more accessible.

January 31, 2006 5:20 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Now what some one needs to do is make open courseware that uses open textbooks.

But the need is really greatest for the youngest of the young, because that's where the foundations are built. If the base is weak, it's hard to build on it.

I'm currently actually working on a way to make super-inexpensive private schools that could be franchised into low-income neighborhoods; it's one of my long term goals. Sort of an agorist Montessori for the lower income set.

January 31, 2006 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Five or ten years ago, I was rather interested in Cut Spelling and Esperanto, as ways of making language more accessible.

English is a difficult language, but it can be learned phonetically. 'k' almost always sounds [k], the voiceless velar plosive. 'g' makes either [g] or [dzh], either the voiced velar plosive or the voiced alveolar affricate (like the 'j' in "judge"). And it only sounds [dzh] before 'e' and 'i'. English is complex, but it's not Chinese - it is mostly phonetic, and the contradictions can be learned.

The "look-say" method completely ignores that English is a mostly phonetic language and teaches children to memorise the sounds of each word. As a result, instead of understanding the system of English writing, they're taught that English has no rhyme or reason behind its words. Because English does have a writing and spelling system, children taught under the look-say system are in a much worse position unless they figure out the pattern for themselves.

- Josh, genuinely pissed about look-say

January 31, 2006 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know much about "look-say" and other teaching methods.

Granted, English is largely phonetic, but there are a good number of exceptions. These exceptions are a part of education-based snobbery...where a "poorly edukated" person either "mis-spells" a word by writing it phonetically, or mis-pronounces a word because it is not written phonetically.

Any ideas on how we should handle words that are not spelled phonetically? Any ideas on how this affects classist, racist, and nationalist attitudes?

January 31, 2006 4:01 PM  
Blogger GD said...

Another thing needful is freely distributable and reproducible academic journals. No one makes money off these (not off most of them anyways) but the steep cost of access that the cumulative price of all of them adds up to is one of the major things that separates prestigious colleges from non-prestigious ones. Most students don't see it, but it really hits you as a grad student or faculty member.

Textbook costs are a scandal, but at least someone's making a living off of them. Academic journal costs do nothing except enforce already-existent educational hierarchies.

January 31, 2006 8:02 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


If you're considering an agoraphobic lifestyle, you might be interested in something from one of MST3K's "Inventions" segments: a treadmill with motorized wheels on the bottom, for people who like to go somewhere when they're walking.


I never thought that much about Esperanto, aside from perhaps too quickly dismissing it as an example of trendy upper-middle class reformism.

Spelling reform, on the other hand, is one of those things that (for some reason) triggered a visceral rage.

For one thing, as an amateur afficionado of the history of English, I'm fond of those little spelling quirks that are really fossilized records of earlier pronunciations.

It's the same reason I get bent out of shape about the schoolmarms labeling stuff as "substandard" that was quite good Chaucerian and Shakespearian English before the lexicographers and grammarians got their anal little hands on the language. When you can find not only double, but quadruple negatives in Chaucer, and in every English dialect from Yorkshire to Tennessee, and when other modern languages use the double negative routinely as a form of emphasis, it's a pretty strong indication the schoolmarms are (as we put it in Arkansas) all eat up with dumbass.

Then, too, spelling reform has the effect of cutting post-"reform" generations off from earlier literature in their own language.


Your project sounds intriguing. Please keep me posted. It would be hard to design a school that *wasn't* cheaper than the government schools' per-student expenditure, unless you're just deliberately looking for ways to waste the most money possible. Just getting rid of the extra administrative layers and renting existing buildings in lower-cost areas (instead of building custom-designed schools on the most expensive real estate in town) would result in huge savings.

January 31, 2006 8:08 PM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Universal languages, phonography, phonotypy, and spelling reforms are, of course, old anarchist hobby horses. Stephen Pearl Andrews and Lewis Masquerier were both enthusiasts. But take away some of the 19th century assumptions, like assumptions about the inherent meanings of certain phonemes or the existence of a pre-Babel language to which one could attempt a return, and much of that stuff is more entertaining than seriously compelling.

I've been reading all sorts of 17th and 18th century stuff, before spelling standardization is a powerful force, and it's striking me that clarity comes from care in expression as much as from standardization.

Part of me is sympathetic to the Alwatos, Volupuks, and Esperantos, but another part of me is a little wary of uniform anything, particularly in the realm of human expression.

February 01, 2006 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

f you're considering an agoraphobic lifestyle, you might be interested in something from one of MST3K's "Inventions" segments: a treadmill with motorized wheels on the bottom, for people who like to go somewhere when they're walking.

I have no idea what this means.


While it's true that the double negative is a part of many dialects, it's uncommon in most modern dialects. This is the AAVE problem: it is a fully realised, perfectly internally consistent dialect of English. Problem is, teaching AAVE or some other non-standard dialect as the main English dialect does the student a massive disservice. It sounds stupidly conservative to say so, but IBM isn't hiring people speaking AAVE or some Appalachian dialect. They have to be able to context switch.

- Josh

February 01, 2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger GuerrillaScholar said...

Interesting stuff. I've been aware of the MIT Open Courseware project for some time, but the Wikibooks site is new to me. Your post got me to speculating on my own blog Cogito! about whether or not one could do more than textbooks on the wiki- model and develop classes, and assemble those classes into degree programs.

The problem is the approval process. I've actually been through the process of taking a vocational school through the labyrinth of state approval and I'm helping that same school apply for national accreditation, so I know something of what the process is about. I don't really see any reason why a special accreditation institution could not be formed to bless Open-content online degree programs.

Great post.

February 02, 2006 6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Learning to sight-read whole words, on the other hand, is a throwback to ideographic writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphics, that make society dependent on a privileged mandarin class.

Actually "Chinese characters" would be a better analogy. Egyptian hieroglyphics are an abjad representing consonants, like the Arabic and Hebrew scripts.

December 17, 2007 9:58 AM  

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