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from The Textbook Letter, July-August 1999

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Biology: The Dynamics of Life
Texas edition, 1998. 1,119 pages + appendices. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-825436-8.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

Students in Texas Have Been Betrayed Again

William J. Bennetta

About fourteen years ago, while he was serving as chief judge of the State of New York's Court of Appeals, Sol Wachtler made a remark that has since become famous. A New York grand jury, he said, would indict a ham sandwich if that were what a prosecutor wanted.

I was reminded of Wachtler's comment as I looked through the 1998 Texas edition of Glencoe's Biology: The Dynamics of Life, which has been adopted by the Texas State Board of Education as a high-school biology textbook. The Texas Board, I believe, would adopt a ham sandwich as a high-school biology book if that were what a big publisher wanted [see note 1, below].

The Dynamics of Life is a glitzy, ignorant schoolbook that has been around for years. Ellen C. Weaver and I reviewed the 1991 version [note 2], then David L. Jameson and I wrote reviews of the 1995 version [note 3]. I didn't review the 1998 version, but Jameson did. He iterated his view that The Dynamics of Life was a menace to science education, and he said that the 1998 version was just the 1995 version with some minor, poorly done changes (including a new illustration that blatantly contradicted the book's text). He called attention to the 1998 book's ludicrous obsolescence, and he remarked that "Glencoe's writers still do not know what they are writing about, and they have not even tried to keep up with science news that has been readily available in the popular media." [note 4]

The 1998 Texas edition will not detain us for long. Sixteen pages of cutesy, trivial "Texas Biology Reports" have been bound into the front the book, before the title page, but all the rest of the 1998 Texas edition is virtually identical with the 1998 national edition -- the edition that Jameson examined. The Texas edition merits attention only because the Texas Board's adoption of this book testifies anew to the Board's irresponsibility and dereliction.

Sampling the Pages

In its structure and its pagination, the 1998 Texas edition conforms exactly to the national edition -- 1,119 pages in the body of the book, then 67 pages of appendices and lists. To search for differences in content, I took a random sample of 111 pages in the body of the Texas edition, and I compared them with the same-numbered pages in the national. This comparison disclosed twelve small novelties in the Texas edition, including four novel bits of false "information":

After I finished my formal sampling of pages, I glanced through the Texas edition and noticed some of its other charms. I learned that asymmetry is a kind of symmetry. I learned that all animals are predators and must kill prey. I learned that the writers had no idea of what a law of nature may be. I learned that there are only three kingdoms of living things -- then I learned that there are six. I groaned when I saw the phony-baloney caption in which the Glencoe writers misidentified Astyanax mexicanus, a common fish which is described in handbooks for aquarists. I chuckled when the writers put forth their false claim that "Common mole-rats are completely sightless," since a nearby photograph clearly showed a mole-rat's eye. I grinned when the writers announced that "the largest known cell" is the yolk -- just the yolk, mind you -- of an ostrich egg. I laughed aloud at the idiotic "BioLab" project that would reveal "the ideal length and width for a bird's tail," and I laughed at other phony projects that were comparably inane.

I can't laugh, though, when I consider that students may actually use this book in schools. Once again, the Texas State Board of Education has betrayed Texas students and has sold them out.

Notes

  1. To read about two other books that the Texas Board has approved for high-school biology courses, see the review of Fearon's Biology in TTL, July-August 1998, and the two reviews of Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of Life in TTL, November-December 1998. [return to text]

  2. See "Ignorance and Superstition in a Gaudy, Glitzy Package" and "An Inept, Unacceptable Text with Handsome Decorations" in TTL for November-December 1991. [return to text]

  3. See "This Book Is a Menace" and "Turn It Off" in TTL, July-August 1996. [return to text]

  4. See "The Return of the Menace" in TTL for May-June 1999. [return to text]


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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