Kindlegarten? Not So Fast

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The Chronicle of Higher Education reports the persistent power of paper books in shaping children's achievement -- even while controlling for parents' income and education -- across national and cultural boundaries. The Chronicle's conclusion:

Even a relatively small number of books can make a difference: A child whose family has 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than a child whose family is sadly book-less.

I wonder what e-book readers like the Kindle will mean to these statistics. On the plus side, a lot of e-books are free and those that aren't are often discounted, so a family with a Kindle might be able to afford more books (assuming they can pony up for the device). But the books aren't as easy to share and you probably don't want your 5-year-old dribbling juice onto your fancy expensive gadget.

Of course, these studies describe kids who grew up before electronic books or readers. It's possible future analysis will show they'll do even better. We don't know what it might mean to grow up in a screen-centered household. I wouldn't be surprised if today's parents (and teachers) sorted themselves into print advocates, screen enthusiasts, and mix-and-matchers. It will be a long-term experiment -- one that would not be approved by some human subjects ethics committee if academic researchers had proposed the idea. But remember the promise and reality of baby videos.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center and holds a Ph.D in European history. More

Edward Tenner is an independent writer and speaker on the history of technology and the unintended consequences of innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago and was executive editor for physical science and history at Princeton University Press. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows and John Simon Guggenheim fellow, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. He is now an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, where he remains a senior research associate.

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