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Camouflaging the Vietnam War: How Textbooks Continue to Keep the Pentagon Papers Secret

Truman lied. Eisenhower lied. Kennedy lied. Johnson "lied and lied and lied." Nixon lied. Who's lying now?


In the Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, Daniel Ellsberg, who secretly copied and then released the Pentagon Papers, offers a catalog of presidential lying about the U.S. role in Vietnam. Truman lied. Eisenhower lied. Kennedy lied. Johnson "lied and lied and lied." Nixon lied.

Ellsberg concludes: "The American public was lied to month by month by each of these five administrations. As I say, it’s a tribute to the American public that their leaders perceived that they had to be lied to; it's no tribute to us that it was so easy to fool the public."

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Ten Years After: How Not to Teach About the Iraq War

A decade after the U.S. invasion, social studies textbooks are so full of propaganda, they might as well have been written by the Pentagon.


In 2006, with U.S. troops occupying Iraq, the great historian and humanitarian Howard Zinn expressed his desire for the end of the war: "My hope is that the memory of death and disgrace will be so intense that the people of the United States will be able to listen to a message that the rest of the world, sobered by wars without end, can also understand: that war itself is the enemy of the human race."

At least in a formal sense, our country's memories of war are to be found in school history textbooks. Exactly a decade after the U.S. invasion, those texts are indeed sending "messages" to young people about the meaning of the U.S. war in Iraq. But they are not the messages of peace that Howard Zinn proposed. Not even close.

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We Should Probably Turn Textbooks Into Comic Books

Kids stay up all night reading comics and graphic novels. Bringing that style to textbooks could make them as excited about academics.


Much of the recent textbook debate has been over whether a physical or digital format is best—should students lug around 20-pound backpacks full of hardcover textbooks or should they simply download them onto a sleek e-reader? Well, a new study from researchers at the University of Oklahoma suggests that we'd be better off focusing on something else: ensuring the academic content within the book is in a format that's going to help students retain more information. That might mean ditching traditional textbooks and replacing them with graphic novels and comics.

The lead author of the study, Jeremy Short, a professor at Oklahoma's business school who also co-authored the first Harvard Business Case in graphic novel format, had one group of seniors read passages on management and entrepreneurship from a traditional business textbook while a second group read about the same topics from a graphic novel. Short then gave the students a quiz on the material and found that those who read the graphic novel retained more information and could even recognize direct quotes. In a corresponding study, Short found that 80 percent of students were more engaged by and preferred the format of a graphic novel.

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Finally, a Tumblr That Puts Textbook Silliness on Blast

The "Thanks, Textbooks" blog is collecting examples of the egregious nonsense that shows up in the books our children are supposed to learn from.

I often find myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the terrible writing and incredibly silly captions, explanations, images, and word problems that make it into textbooks. Some of the most egregious examples of the ridiculousness that somehow makes it into print—and is used to educate the nation's students—are being put on blast via the Tumblr "Thanks, Textbooks: A Collection of the World's Finest Academic Writing."

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A Nonprofit Publisher Puts Another Nail in the $200 Textbook Coffin

OpenStax believes its free books can save students millions.


In his latest State of the Union address, President Obama asked America's colleges and universities to get serious about making higher education more affordable. There are many ways to cut costs at colleges, one of which is lowering tuition fees. But part of easing the financial burden on students is reducing the amount of money they have to shell out every semester for textbooks. OpenStax College, a new nonprofit recently launched at Rice University, hopes to do just that.

According to Inside Higher Education, OpenStax plans to compete with pricey $200 hardback texts from for-profit publishers by offering digital books for five common introductory classes for free, starting with sociology and physics texts this spring. OpenStax is beginning with introductory texts because the information in them is relatively basic and less likely to change year to year. Publishers are frequently accused of filling their coffers by updating textbook editions at random and then convincing professors to adopt the new version. If the OpenStax plan works, the multi-billion-dollar textbook industry could be in trouble.

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College Faculty Take the Lead in Developing Open Education Resources

The University of Massachusetts gave faculty grants to develop low- or no-cost course materials. Now students are saving thousands of dollars.


The average college student now spends $1,000 annually on books and supplies, and growing numbers of universities are finally getting serious about student complaints over the cost of course materials. But at schools that are open to the idea of adopting free or low-cost alternatives to $200 textbooks, concerns about the quality and variety of electronic materials already on the market can be a major hurdle. To address that problem, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst recently launched the Open Education Initiative, which will award grants to faculty members seeking to develop low- or no-cost course materials as an alternative to traditional textbooks.

This year, UMass awarded eight faculty members a total of $10,000 in grants to develop their own course materials. Charles Schweik, an environmental conservation professor who says he participated because he believes "in the importance of attainable resources," published his own scholarly work in an open-access format. Schweik’s students can now read his coursepack for free online, or they can print a copy for $13.

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