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Text Book Shenanigans
Sunday, April 04 2004 @ 01:07 AM EST

Paul Murphy has been researching IT textbooks. The results are appalling. Here's how he begins:

"Want to know why most business analysts and venture capitalists simply don't get it with respect to Unix? Take a look at the computer books they study while working toward their MBA, financial analysis certificate or accounting designation, and you'll understand that their ignorance isn't entirely their fault.

"Each of these professional qualifications is directly or indirectly controlled by some group that sets minimal educational standards, including things like 'IT competency maps' -- lists of things graduates are supposed to know about IT. Schools work to these standards. Thus, nearly every curriculum leading to a business designation of some kind features at least one, and usually several, introductory IT courses."

He took a look at some 8 textbooks created according to the standards, and here's what he found: Linux is barely mentioned at all, and UNIX only slightly more so (even Apple is mostly a no-show), and UNIX and Linux are typically compared unfavorably to Windows when they are mentioned.

Here's the imbalance quantified:

"But in total, BSD, GNU, Linux, open source, Solaris and all of the rest warrant roughly one word per thousand among the 2 million in the books -- and much of that coverage is negative."

Many more specifics are included in Mr. Murphy's longer paper on this subject. What I learned is that the same pro-Microsoft articles that the tech media spew out end up quoted in IT textbooks. I believe, however, that's from the old days, when articles got printed and if you knew better, you just disgustedly told your friends or your mate. Now, you can leave a comment correcting the stories for the whole world to read and consider. If every time an inaccurate story is printed there are comments calmly and clearly presenting the facts, which is what I see happening, that has to have an impact over time in what is included in a textbook. Mr. Murphy points out that people don't know what they haven't been told:

"Believe it or not, there's an upside for the Unix community here. Simply try to remember, next time you run into users who think Microsoft invented computing, bosses who are surprised to learn that not all computers run Windows, or venture capitalists whose idea of 'adult supervision' is to take your network-computing idea to Windows, that they got those beliefs from their textbooks -- meaning that they aren't necessarily as moronic as their opinions and that you can hope to reeducate at least some of them."

That is just as true for textbook authors as it is for financial analysts.

Mr. Murphy asks that if anyone is interested in contributing ideas or information to make his paper better, that they go to this page to find the draft. It might be good to stagger your arrival. There is a place for comments at the end. Here's a snip from the paper:

"Teaching an introductory business computing course without reference to Unix and other non Microsoft technologies amounts to an absurd misrepresentation, roughly comparable to teaching a course in the fundamentals of democracy without reference to England or the United States."

One of his readers posted that it isn't just IT textbooks and provides a url to a "critique of a bad physics text", Prentice Hall's "Science Explorer: Motion, Forces and Energy". Murphy responds by writing:

"My first degree was in physics/math; every time I read something on the subject in the press it reinforces the notion that the more you know about something the less likely it is that the business press will get it right. The examples you mention are just sickeningly sloppy and there's stuff like this in just about every science text - it's disgusting.

"Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it in general - but perhaps open source does offer an alternative simply because you can't get away with mistakes if lots of people get to see your work and comment on it."

Precisely. The open method is effective because so many eyeballs are watching and responding. Is there any reason why textbook publishers or standards bodies, or college and university presidents, for that matter, wouldn't be interested in hearing from the public on this subject? They might just respond to some degree, if they knew enough people noticed that their textbooks were not adequately preparing students for the real business world of the future. Even if Microsoft donated buckets of money to a college or university, no school can afford to lose its reputation for educational excellence. And, as Mr. Murphy points out, they may just be ignorant themselves and might be glad to learn something about GNU/Linux and BSD and how the world is making a switch that is likely to leave their students in the dust if they are not better prepared than this.

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