spacer image
spacer image

Welcome! You're looking at an archived Snarkmarket entry. We've got a fresh look—and more new ideas every day—on the front page.

August 3, 2005

<< Newspapers and Programmers | Snuppy!!! >>

Things That Will Be Free

The iconic Jimbo Wales is guest-blogging for Larry Lessig and listing ten things that will be free in the future. He starts with the encyclopedia, natch, and continues onto basic textbooks:

Now, for that concrete prediction: a complete curriculum in English and a number of major languages will exist by 2040, and translation to minor languages will likely follow soon after.

I think curricula are things we don’t think enough about. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who spend quite a bit of time thinking about them. But for the general population, after school — and even during school! — you don’t spend much time inspecting the stuff that is, you know, MOLDING THE VERY OUTLOOK AND SKILL-SET OF FUTURE GENERATIONS. (I don’t think it’s controversial to concede that curricula play a significant role in determining the character and quality of education — but feel free to disagree with me.)

Anyway, I think I’d be pretty enthusiastic about a Wikicurricula project.

Although: A comment on one of Wales’ posts led me to this essay, which I am currently chewing on.

Posted August 3, 2005 at 11:14 | Comments (7) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture


So who will decide on what is included in this "complete curriculum?" Or will it just sort of be a survival of the fittest, where the "best" materials end up in the pack? If so, should we expect the curriculum to differ at all from the dominant cultural norms we tend to grow up with already? I just wonder if a "complete curriculum" is just a nice way of presenting an effort at canonization, which by nature tends to suppress/repress the voices of marginalized speakers.

That said, I admittedly don't know much about how successful Wikipedia, for example, is at presenting a fair (and who's to say what "fair" is??) mix of perspectives. Anyone more familiar with the phenomenon want to chime in?

Posted by: LPS on August 4, 2005 at 12:15 AM

Ha! That's hilarious! I was just thinking about that. Seriously.

So who will decide on what is included in this "complete curriculum?"

I think it will be a multiplicity of options, filtered out by teachers or schoolboards---kinda like now, but open sourced, etc.

Of course, I haven't read the actual article, but unless he's saying all copyright on books will be done away with, this will marginalize not any demographic group, but new things. Freeness will make old works overwhelmingly economically preferable.

I'm really surprised this hasn't happened already in the sciences. I observed long ago that my physics GSIs were writing up incredibly good material--TeXing it, proofreading it, etc--only for it to languish in our binders, forcing the next years crop of grad students to write up the exact same material. But the basic, important problems of Quantum Mechanics hadn't changed from year to year, or decade to decade. It seemed like a waste. That kind of thing is increasingly getting posted online in a decentralized fashion. (See my friend Robin's pdf on Fuzzy Chaos. I remember very well that that same Spring he wrote up all kinds of other good stuff, but I can only guess it's lost.) It would be great to centralize it, rather in the same manner as the XXX ArXive preprint server. I am sure that will happen sooner rather than later. Last fall my friend Lior took a graduate class's work and turned it into a book. For now the book is a traditional (Kind of!) Cambriduge University Press Book. But it existed online independant of its incipient physical form for a long time, and given a better universal format than PDF, there's no reason such a project couldn't be electronically disseminated in the future. It's not a huge step to go from research collaborative book to scholarly collaborative book to collaborative textbook.

I think curricula are things we don’t think enough about. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who spend quite a bit of time thinking about them. Sadly, those people are often a biased sample of society. It would be great if we could all think about this a little more, b/c you're right, it's frightfully important. An open source model might very well help that.

Yeah, he's def. not saying copyright on books will go away; just that in the specific realm of curricula it's very likely a free, open-source alternative to traditional textbooks will arise.

Definitely strikes me that there is a huuuge amount of stuff in academia that is not as well-archived and -indexed and -utilized as it could be.

Yeah, I'm really not sure about the inclusive-ness of Wikipedia, LPS, but I'm quite sure it wouldn't address the strong critiques of people with a strong commitment to alternative or subversive histories. UNLESS, as Saheli suggests, there were multiple open-source curricula created by different groups w/ different perspectives, etc... which would, in fact, be fairly rad.

Personally I'd like to see open-source curricula developed more along the lines of Firefox than Wikipedia: e.g. not so much the collectivist thing, but rather led by a core team of dedicated planners & implementers who are then augmented by a big cloud of contributors, testers, users, etc., and all open & free.

Good call with going for open source rather than wiki collective. Now the problem of access to the big cloud...

Posted by: LPS on August 4, 2005 at 05:40 PM


Just a note to say I'm posting this from a cell phone, and the Future TOTALLY RULES. Snuppy 4 life.

I would love to know more about this. I envision the school district I work for or perhaps the state of Illinois doing a collaboritve project to write textbooks that would include state and local assessments plus links to wonderful lesson plans from teachers throughout the state. What a wonderful resource this would be and I think it is doable. It could be in Spanish as well. Isn't California trying something like this? The money saved could go to hardware to make sure kids have access to the material, both at school and at home.

Posted by: Ethyl on July 20, 2007 at 09:36 AM
spacer image
spacer image