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from The Textbook Letter, March-April 2000

Letters Received


How Holt Treated a "Reviewer"

To the Editor:

In Volume 10, Number 3 of TTL, William J. Bennetta described the 1999 version of Glencoe's Biology: An Everyday Experience, and he quoted the names and affiliations of the "reviewers" listed on the book's copyright page. These "reviewers," he said, "evidently have examined the 1999 book and have found it to be great stuff." That is what the list implies, but the implication may be false.

A few years ago I was hired by Holt, Rinehart and Winston to serve as one of the reviewers of the 1997 version of SciencePlus, a three-volume series for use in middle schools. The three volumes are designated "Level Green," "Level Red" and "Level Blue," perhaps corresponding to grades 6, 7 and 8.

Holt's editors sent me drafts of five chapters to inspect, but they didn't identify the volume (or volumes) in which the chapters would appear. They just told me to read the chapters and to note and rewrite any sections that contained errors. I didn't rewrite anything, because I had been hired as a reviewer rather than an author (and because I found that the prose in the chapters was beyond repair), but I did mark the many errors that I encountered.

When the 1997 volumes were published, I was listed as a reviewer in the "Level Red" and the "Level Blue," implying that I had examined and approved both of them. Actually, I had never seen either. I had seen only a few isolated chapters -- and as far as I can recall, I had never said or written anything which suggested, even remotely, that I found the chapters acceptable for use in a science textbook. My advice to educators is: Beware of entering into any arrangement that could enable a textbook-publisher to abuse your name. Beware of any arrangement that could result in a publisher's listing you as a "reviewer" in a book that you never have seen.

Donald Yost
Fair Oaks, California
Donald Yost is a retired teacher of physics.


Glencoe's Fake "History"

To the Editor:

I have enjoyed the sequence of TTL articles titled "More Fake 'History' from Glencoe." The most recent one ("More Fake 'History' from Glencoe" in Volume 10, Number 4) is right on the mark in its criticism of American-history textbooks that make gushy, exaggerated claims about the Anasazi and other prehistoric Amerindians. Glencoe and the other publishers that print such claims in schoolbooks are selling the kind of fiction that the multi-culti crowd wants to read. Facts are cast aside, fictitious narratives are invented to glorify primitive peoples, and "history" is converted into a game of Spot the Victim.

Glencoe's writers use all of these techniques, and in many cases they carry Victimism to ridiculous extremes. One such case was covered in your article about the false depiction of the American slave system in Glencoe's American Odyssey ("More Fake 'History' from Glencoe" in Volume 9, Number 3). I now would like to call your attention to two others -- two extravaganzas of Victimism that appear in Glencoe's middle-school book The American Journey.

In The American Journey, the narrative of the first encounter between Christopher Columbus and the Taino (the aborigines who inhabited the islands that we now call the Bahamas) is literally fiction. Glencoe devotes two pages to an excerpt from Morning Girl -- a melodramatic fantasy written by one Michael Dorris, whom Glencoe vaguely describes as an "educator," a "social activist," and the winner of a nameless "award." The title character of Morning Girl is a young Taino. In the excerpt that Glencoe reproduces, Morning Girl sees Columbus and his men come ashore, and she proceeds to describe them as fat, awkward, rude, confused, and easily flustered. Morning Girl herself, on the other hand, is calm, observant, gracious, and careful to maintain her good manners. Can you Spot the Victim? Can you tell who the bad guys are? Are you wondering how Michael Dorris got the notion that men who had spent two months aboard a 15th-century sailing ship would all be "fat" after their ordeal? Are you wondering whether the "award" that Dorris allegedly received was a prize for creating multi-culti stereotypes?

The Morning Girl episode appears near the beginning of the first unit of The American Journey. It is followed by the same formulaic, multi-culti material that all the major publishers use today in the early chapters of their "American history" schoolbooks, including fluffy accounts of Amerindians, irrelevant stories about African kingdoms, half a page of silliness about Mansa Musa (a 14th-century African king who has no connection with American history), and alarming paragraphs about Spain's nasty colonization of the New World. Ho-hum -- there is nothing unusual about that. But at the very end of the unit, Glencoe's writers produce another extravaganza of Victimism. They devote about a quarter of a page to telling the student to perform this "Portfolio Activity": Review . . . how Spanish explorers treated Native Americans. Then imagine that you have been assigned to a special council of law-makers in Europe in the 1500s. Make a list of five laws you would pass to ensure that explorers treated the people they encountered in other lands fairly.

A "council of law-makers"? In 16th-century Europe? In 16th-century Europe, laws were dictated by sovereigns, not by legislatures, and there was no population of professional "law-makers." (Even in England, the power to make laws was still held by the crown. Not until 1689 would the English sovereign's power to create laws be transferred to the Parliament.) But even without the anachronistic notion of a council empowered to pass laws, the "Portfolio Activity" is ridiculous. If it were taken seriously, it would require a middle-school student to investigate Renaissance legal theories, including the ubiquitous connections among religious doctrines and secular law. It would also require him to study contemporary legal doctrines and precedents, so that he then could offer credible speculation about the actions that Renaissance jurists, Renaissance churchmen and Renaissance rulers might have considered "fair" in situations where Christians were competing with heathens for land and other resources. No middle-school student could carry out such research.

The Glencoe "Portfolio Activity," however, isn't meant to be taken seriously and isn't intended to help the student learn any history. It is just a quarter-page invitation to a Victimism party. It is a pretext for leading the student to indulge in presentistic foolery -- by viewing the past in terms of social values and political orthodoxies that prevail now -- and for reinforcing multi-culti notions about Victims and bad guys.

Roland G. Downing
Wilmington, Delaware

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