The way I think of content is that content is what allows us not to start at square one each time. So when Jim narrates his teaching process and I can learn from his mistakes without repeating them, that’s content.
The math example is actually great. So if I didn’t have a textbook I’d try to derive it, just like you say. Which is OK is we’re looking at ratios. But when we come to calculus we’re looking at something it took Issac Newton (among others) to invent.
Likewise, in the humanities we can’t move to having a critique of Gramsci without first reading Gramsci.
Content allows us to enter into a cultural discussion without setting the clock back to Plato and re-deriving post-structuralism in steps. Imagine if no texts explaining curriculum theory were available. You could probably derive it from other people who had read the texts, but it would be pretty hard to get at it with much depth without at least a few written explanations.
And despite Jim’s insistence of content as a product, the use of the Hackers book, the use of the Ted Nelson videos, etc., in his class argues that a rich selection of content matters — it’s just not *defined* at the beginning of the class.
And I’d argue that if you want to do that — let the class wander and find their texts — that you need an even *richer* store of content to mine, right?