Book Wars

As a college student in 2020, there are some hard truths you have to deal with. Everything is expensive (price), everything is cheap (quality), you may not gain any competitive edge over most peers, and ultimately, you (or often your future-self or parents) are seen as merely dollar signs by the institutions that be. Must this be the case? Many others have shone a light on tuition inflation with no noticeable change in the quality of education and they have made those arguments in such a way that for me to interject a half-assed note of agreement might be a disservice to them. I, ultimately, have my own points to raise.

What if students and administration together could solve one aspect of the college price gouging system in such a way that the solution might benefit everyone directly involved?

Part of the college condition is that tuition costs are the tip of the iceberg. The image at right is taken from the Western Washington University (WWU) Website, as I am a current student at WWU and am personally familiar with the fees associated I feel comfortable using them as a model (not to be confused with my previous school Walla Walla University or WWU). Beyond simply tuition, there are roughly $18,000 of added costs per year with a substantial amount of this being housing and dining (something you can avoid if you live close to a university… I do not.) The College Board estimates students will spend roughly $1,240 per year on textbooks, and textbooks are what I would like to address. Is there a way to significantly cut student’s required spending on textbooks, which are currently essential materials for almost every college course? There exist many cost-saving tips for the students who balk at the $200 – $300 price-tag for some required books (especially in STEM fields). Renting, buying used books online, sharing with classmates who have purchased copies, etc. are all fairly common practices. Some students just refuse to buy them and hope it won’t be reflected too much in their final grade. However, none of this changes the fact that publishing companies are able to extort students who do not have access to a competitive market. So, clearly all we have to do is convince the publishing companies to lower prices for the good of students, hooray! While an extremely easy solution, it is also rather unlikely. In fact, the chances that any practical solution will involve publishing companies (or anyone that profits off the rigged market that are college textbooks) are slim to none.

Students spend on average $85 per textbook with some books costing as much as $300 and some as low as $20. Some classes require a textbook as well as several novels, biographies, or other writings. Some teachers use textbooks for assigning homework problems, assigning readings, workbook assignments, etc.

Are textbooks essential?

Ultimately that is up to each individual teacher to decide. Some teachers use textbooks for functional purposes, whether assigning homework or leaning on it for lecture material. Others use it to supplement their own lecture material, and still, others use it only because they feel they should. There are a select few teachers that recognize the effect of the tet book racket on students and build a course without needing a textbook. This is the basis for the following solution.

What if teachers were offered a $20 cash bonus per student for a class without a textbook?

If a teacher were offered $20 cash, per student in a class that does not have a required textbook, would they voluntarily do the work to build a course that could function without a textbook? There are a number of considerations relating to teachers, students, and administration, all of which will be addressed below.

Would the class type/size matter for teachers that took the offer?

Scenario A: Class of 400 students – As it stands, a class of 400 students and a textbook cost of $100, students will collectively spend $40,000, the vast majority of which goes to publishing companies and investors. If the teacher were presented with this offer and accepted they would stand to receive an $8,000 payout. This might result in overall savings to the class of $32,000 and an additional $8,00 to the teacher who would have received nothing from the sale of 40,000 worth of textbooks (assuming they are not the author, in which case the payout might still be less). I believe this teacher would be strongly in favor of this.

Scenario B: Class of 50 students – Now take a class in which the teacher might only receive a $1000 payout. Not quite as tempting as the $8,000 payout given to the teacher in scenario A, however, teachers often teach more than one section of a class per term. A teacher with 2 or even 3 sections of a class with 50 students each might earn as much as $3,000 per term. Perhaps this is not enough… A class built without a textbook can function relatively unchanged for a very long time. If it took a teacher 40 hours to develop the materials necessary to ditch the textbook they could easily calculate the hourly payout of that work. Even if that by itself was not enough the added incentive of additional payouts each time they teach that class with previously developed course work. I believe this teacher would be moderately in favor of this.

Scenario C: Class of 20 students or fewer – The scenario that offers a teacher the least incentive (on face value) is a class that has very few students. On the financial side, the teacher would be offered a maximum of $400 to make the necessary adjustments to the course. However, this may be offset by the practical functioning of a class this size. While a teacher may not want to invest time and energy into developing a course that would not need a textbook, this teacher is best suited to create a learning environment based on communication and question answering rather than a “learn from a book” model.

Textbook Non Requisitus

Most students will take 4 or 5 courses per term for 12 quarters or roughly 54 classes over a college career. With an average cost of $100 per textbook, the average student might spend $5,400 on books alone.  If every teacher moved to this model, the cost to students for the same 54 classes would drop to $1,080, or a savings of 80%. Or with the more conservative estimate published by the college board of $1,240 per year or $4,800 it might still result in a 77.5% reduction in the total textbook cost.

Even if the emergence of e-books accelerates (average cost $60 or $3,240) it would still result in a 66% savings for students.

I will be exploring the following two ideas in the near future. Stay Tuned!

Who is loosing out? 


In the meantime, if you know a student at WWU please ask them to fill out the following survey.

When BitCoin Goes Bust

*If you were thinking and breathing in 2017/18 you probably heard of BitCoin**. The illusive cryptocurrency is shrouded in mystery for any number of lay people, but with a whispering promise of a future paved in gold for anyone who invests. Not quite. BitCoin is at its core just another form of money. Let’s talk about money for a moment.

There are three types of money, each embodying another form of exchange. The first and least common in today’s world is commodity money. This means money that has inherent value. Commodities like tea, salt, and tobacco are the most famous of the commodity monies. This basically represents a barter economy where you trade goods with a value for other goods with a value. However, this is not very effective in the long term. There are two functions of money that are not met with commodity money, the measure of value and the store of value. 

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The Abdication of Tradition

Being a very discombobulated man in Milwaukee, Christopher Sholes was strange. He often wore trousers inches too short for his legs. Working on and off in print journalism throughout his life, with some time away after accepting a position as Collector of the Port of Milwaukee to which he was appointed to by Abraham Lincoln, he had a knack for invention and innovation. Originally looking to come up with some sort of pagination machine, and with a few patents under his belt for small mechanical devices he had created, Sholes, on what I imagine to be a dreary Monday afternoon, came up with the typewriter, and with it, the QWERTY keyboard (Britannica). Darren Wershler-Henry in his 2007 book The Iron Whim explains how our modern view the typewriter is as a symbol of unadulterated truth in what he believes is “a non-existent sepia-toned era”, where “people typed passionately late into the night under the flickering light of a single naked bulb, sleeves rolled up, suspenders hanging down, lighting each new cigarette off the shouldering butt of the last, occasionally taking a pull from the bottle of bourbon in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.” Now, as any passionate historian of early typography will tell you, that is not quite the whole story. With around fifty fathers of the typewriter, “there was no single moment of discovery, no lone inventor crying “Eureka!” in a darkened laboratory” (The Typing Life), as one New Yorker article describes. No, this innovation was slow and painful, long and exhausting, and at the end of it… we had the typewriter. Months, years and decades of work for something as routine as a typewriter. My how times have changed. “A chicken in every pot” as the expression goes, suggesting mainstream affluence is the end goal of any progressive, modern society. What happens when all the pots are full? Where do we go from there, because we are a long way from the innovations of Christopher Sholes?

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Technology: and the fall of the gerontocracy

It’s easy to sit back in ones rocking chair, knitting needles in hand, with the radio blasting in the background while viciously condemning the technology of the new age. A familiar and vivid image for some, completely unfounded for others. For years the gerontocracy has been sounding the alarm of the effects new technology has on the brains of the “young ones”, warning that without severe moderation and control of this infernal technology the fabric of our culture may wash away. On the other hand, perhaps not. What if our improvements are actually that? What if the aids and advancements in technology actually lend aid to further advanced educational pursuits? Well, that would change everything. Continue reading “Technology: and the fall of the gerontocracy”

Bahá’í Beliefs

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading about the Bahá’í Faith. I find it to be a very compelling religion due to the core messages of the Faith and the principals taught by its leaders. I look forward to learning much more about it. The following is a brief summation of everything I have learned thus far: Continue reading “Bahá’í Beliefs”

Un Chien Andalou

Un Chien Andalou Poster Dalií and BuñuelRecently I have been reading about “les années folles” also known as the Golden Years. It refers mostly to 1920’s France and the rise of the Modernism, Surrealism, and Cubism as well as an increase of nihilism and a general return to the principals of the enlightenment.  art movement and the avant-garde. The modernist movement never made much sense to me before now, and even now all of the pieces haven’t  quite fit together yet. Its strange to me that from the same movement you get Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dalí. There was so much going on. Mostly, everyone was trying to resolve the pit in their stomach that came from the end of the first world war. Cut to, Un Chien Andalou.  Continue reading “Un Chien Andalou”

Justice: A Radical, Prophetic Call to the Academy and the Pew

Click here for more information about Dr. Maynard Reid

The loud voice of a spirit led, Jamaican raised professor filled the small auditorium this evening as Dr. Pedrito Maynard-Reid gave an invigorating and lively call to academia (WWU specifically) and the Pew (the Adventist Church primarily). Dr. Maynard-Reid hearkened back to the old days of the Adventist church and called upon strong messages of both the old and new testament to carry his message: that religious institutions can and should get involved in secular politics for the end result of JUSTICE.  Continue reading “Justice: A Radical, Prophetic Call to the Academy and the Pew”

Anchor – Radio, reinvented

I have recently come across a media production/consumption app called Anchor. The app can be explained beautifully by the tagline of the application, “Anchor – Radio, reinvented”.

Anchor FM

Anchor provides a platform for people to record their own voice or the sound around them and upload it to their channel. This creates an environment much like Twitter, but one in which it can be turned on and listened to for hours. There are already many platforms moving to anchor to publish media.

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Building a PC


A few years ago I had a strange notion that I wanted to build myself a computer. I work with computers a lot day to day and I have come to understand a fair deal about them, but I was naively unaware of what lay ahead. The different aspects of computers are vast and complicated. Luckily, in our modern age, we are able to access wide opinions and recommendations through the internet.

I usually prefer Macs. I find their user interface and built in programs easy to use but not sacrificing performance. However as anyone will tell you, if you are going to build a computer, make it a PC. In addition to that, I work with PCs and can utilize software licenses that I could not get on a Mac. So, PC it is.

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