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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

They know not what they do.

So recently Conservapedia posted a fairly interesting headline that hits close to home for me. No, the headline wasn't about atheism- those headlines rarely hit close to home because Conservapedia has no idea who or what atheists are- but, rather, about higher education:

Or, to quote directly:

$800 or more a year ... just to buy the overpriced textbooks for college courses. Some clever students rely on using the same books from their college library to avoid this outrageous expense.

For anyone who is curious, they link to an article that asserts that some college students rely on copies of their books they get at the library. Well, duh. That's "news" in the same sense that it's "news" that the sun rises in the East. At the same time, the article is somewhat less positive about that experience that Conservapedia seems to be:

On Friday afternoons between work and rugby practice, Brittany Wolfe would rush to the campus library hoping copies of her advanced algebra textbook had not all been checked out by like-minded classmates.

It was part of the math major's routine last quarter at the University of California, Los Angeles: Stand in line at the reserve desk in the library's closing hours with the goal of borrowing a copy for the weekend.

The alternative was to buy a $120 book and sell it back for far less. If she could sell it back at all.

"It's like this terrible game of catch your books when you can," said Wolfe, a new graduate who estimates she saved $800 a year using books on reserve and who now shares textbook tips as a counselor to incoming UCLA students. "It's frustrating when you're already stressed about school. Being stressed about textbooks doesn't seem right."

The rest of the article is worth reading, as is the recent post and discussion over on Scatterplot, but my point today isn't to address the textbook issue directly. Frankly, I agree that college textbook prices are high and getting higher. Moreover, it's a bit difficult for me to see why the prices of the textbooks I use continue to rise to such an extent without there being major changes to the content. Indeed, it seems like I can't go more than a year or two anymore without a new edition coming out.* But that isn't my point right now.

My point is that Conservapedia is praising some faceless students for using library copies instead of buying their own. It is calling them "clever" because these students can avoid spending their own, personal money on their own textbook and, instead, use a textbook that's provided by an institution. In other words, the Conservapeons are praising college students for avoiding the free market solution and using what amounts to a public option instead.

Now, if we could just get them to see healthcare the same way.

* For anyone who is curious, I actually try to keep to old editions as much as possible so students can take advantage of used copies.

I should note, in all of this, that I have mixed feelings about the students involved. On the one hand, clearly every student cannot rely on desk copies in every class. There just aren't enough copies to go around. On the other hand, I have frequently had students who are the first members of their family to ever go to college and really can't afford more books than absolutely necessary, so I don't blame the students at all. But, as usual, Conservapedia couldn't be bothered with trying to understand all the fiscal and practical aspects of this situation and instead just praises students for falling back on a last-ditch option.

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