The Textbook League

-- by Tom Napier

Some things a skeptic just can't pass up. I came across a reference to a group called The California Textbook League (recently renamed The Textbook League) which critiques school textbooks for scientific accuracy. Suspecting that they might share some of our aims, I dropped them a note. In return I received three issues of their newsletter and a very friendly letter from the league's president, William Bennetta. He says, in part:

"With pseudoscience and superstition resurging throughout our society, skeptical inquiry needs all the help and publicity that it can get. I extend my best wishes to you and your colleagues.

The League was established in 1989 to support the creation and acceptance of sound schoolbooks. Our chief activity is the publication of The Textbook Letter, a bimonthly that is distributed to subscribers throughout the country. Many readers of The Textbook Letter are officials in state or county agencies, in local school districts, or in individual schools; others are members of college departments of education; still others are private citizens who take a serious interest in the quality of education.

The heart of The Textbook Letter consists of reviews, expert analyses of middle-school and high-school books that publishers are selling right now, with emphasis on books in history, geography, health, sexuality and all the sciences. These book reviews are augmented by evaluations of classroom videos and by articles about topics that are important to people who must chose instructional materials.

I enclose sample copies of three recent issues. You may be particularly interested in the articles that describe how some current textbooks are bringing pseudoscience and supernatural bunkum into the public schools."

You have to see these newsletters to believe them. They read as if half the people who write textbooks are years out of date or just plain ignorant; the other half are more concerned with pushing a cultural, political or religious viewpoint than with giving children a useful education. Much of the criticism is fairly mild, "Concept X is used in Chapter 3 but not explained until Chapter 11." Occasional books are even awarded grudging praise. However the majority are picked apart, fact by misleading fact. For example, one book is quoted as attributing one of Newton's laws of motion to Galileo. No punches are pulled. Words such as "irresponsible", "charlatan", and "hack" are freely used and reviews end with summaries such as, "Health educators should have nothing to do with Glencoe's quack-book."

Conceivably, history and geography textbooks could appear to be slanted as a result of honest differences of opinion but when it comes to physics and chemistry, facts are facts. There is certainly no excuse for the blatant promotion of quackery (ginseng, acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic) in a health textbook.

So much in these newsletters is worth quoting that if I start, it will be difficult to stop. Try this for style. "Let me acknowledge that Holt Health is not the first health text to be written by charlatans, nor is it the first to use falsity, unsupported claims and doubletalk to sell superstition and quackery. But I cannot recall any earlier textbook that endorsed the utterly nonsensical notions that are promoted in Holt Health, nor can I recall any earlier book that tried so hard to confuse and deceive the student. The Holt writers have gone to unprecedented lengths to attack rationality and to undermine the student's ability to think rationally about biomedical matters."

The Textbook Letter runs to twelve glossy pages and appears six times a year. Membership in The Textbook League is $36. Their address is P.O. Box 51, Sausalito, CA, 94966. They get my money.

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