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 Prentice Hall disseminates racial rubbish

Editor's Introduction -- Racism and racial pandering are rampant in today's schoolbooks. This article, which ran as a sidebar to a review of Prentice Hall's Motion, Forces, and Energy, analyzes some nonsense that Prentice Hall's race-hustlers have inserted into the teacher's edition of that book. Notice that the hustlers invoke the term "multicultural," even though their material does not describe or compare any cultures. Such mislabeling is common, because textbook-writers regularly employ "multiculturalism" and "multicultural" as code-words: "Multiculturalism" is a code-word denoting the racist ideology of the far left, while "multicultural" means racial.
from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1992

The Fake McCoy

Lawrence S. Lerner
William J. Bennetta

In the teacher's edition of Prentice Hall's Motion, Forces, and Energy, page 89 provides a "Multicultural Opportunity" -- an opportunity that the teacher should ignore:

Without lubrication, many machines would soon cease to function. The "father of lubrication" is Elijah McCoy, an African-American engineer.

Born May 2, 1884, in Canada, McCoy traveled to Scotland to serve as an apprentice engineer. McCoy then settled in Michigan, hoping to pursue a career in engineering, but faced widespread prejudice. The only position he could find was that of fireman on the Michigan Central Railroad, where he was responsible for oiling the engine. At that time, large machinery was periodically shut down so that it could be thoroughly lubricated. McCoy considered this a waste of time and put his engineering skills to work to design a continuous drip lubrication process.

In time, the drip lubricator became such a standard feature on machinery that prospective buyers would ask, "Is it the real McCoy?"

That story is bogus. It is false in every important aspect, and this can be shown easily:

  • Drip lubricators, as well as injectors that continuously sprayed oil into the cylinders of steam engines, were certainly in use by the late 1700s. If there had been no continuous-lubrication devices, no engine could have run for more than a few minutes without breaking down. Steam locomotives would not have been practical, because no locomotive could have gone more than a few miles without being ruined. And McCoy's employer, the Michigan Central, would not have existed.

  • The origin of the phrase the real McCoy is uncertain, and scholarly sources cite several possibilities. None of these involves an inventor, however. The Dictionary of Cliches says this:

Take your pick. One real McCoy was a late 19th-century boxer who fought under the name of Kid McCoy and was so good that other fighters adopted the name, whereupon he had to bill himself as "the real McCoy." Or it was a Scotch whisky made by A. & M. MacKay of Glasgow (in the United Kingdom the saying is "the real MacKay"). Yet another idea is that the expression came from heroin originating in Macao.

In Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, this thought: Maybe the real McCoy is a corruption of the real Mackay, a Scottish phrase that recalls disputes about who was the true chief of the Mackay clan. Only one thing is clear: The history of the real McCoy is obscure.

Where did Prentice Hall get its bogus tale? A Prentice Hall editor told us that it had been contributed by Steven J. Rakow, an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Houston, Clear Lake. (Rakow's name appears on page 3 of Motion, Forces, and Energy, under the heading "Multicultural Consultant.") When we called Rakow, he said that the tale had come from A Salute to Black Scientists and Inventors, a booklet issued in 1985 by Empak Publishing Company (in Chicago). We telephoned Empak, but we were unable to find anyone who had taken part in the writing of Black Scientists. Deborah Green, Empak's director of marketing, told us that the people who had created the booklet were no longer with the company. She said the booklet was based on "research," but she couldn't suggest how we might learn about the research or the researchers. Empak, she said, does not "keep contact" with its former employees.

In its current catalog, Empak calls itself "a leading publisher of Black history materials." Besides booklets, the materials include videos, posters, banners, T-shirts and a board game. We have examined five of the booklets, one of which is Black Scientists. The four others deal with black pioneers, black women, blacks in the arts, and African royalty. Each booklet has about 30 pages and consists chiefly of biographical sketches. Some of the stuff in these sketches is stupid, to say the least. (In Black Scientists, for example, crop-rotation is called "plant rotation" and is depicted as an idea originated by George Washington Carver! And the account of "plant rotation" makes no sense: Legumes somehow "brought nitrogen to the soil," thus replenishing "the minerals.") There is no way to know where any of Empak's material has come from, because the booklets don't cite any sources.

We fail to see how anyone could take the booklets seriously. We fail to see how anyone could read them without recognizing that they are exercises in story-telling, not scholarship. And we fail to see why anyone would transfuse "information" from an Empak booklet into a schoolbook.

Are Prentice Hall's people really as gullible or irresponsible as they seem?

The tale of Elijah McCoy in Black Scientists shows some of the same nonsense that we've seen in Prentice Hall's version. Until McCoy invented a "lubricator cup" in the 1870s, Empak says, "all motorized machinery" had to be stopped for lubrication. Empak also says flatly that the real McCoy commemorates Elijah's products; there is no sign that Empak actually tried to learn about that phrase's history.

On the other hand, the two tales show some differences. Empak says that McCoy was born in 1843 (not 1884), and Empak does not call him "the father of lubrication." Maybe the Prentice Hall crew devised that silliness all by themselves.

What, if anything, did McCoy really do? Maybe he did something important, even if Prentice Hall's writers don't know what it was. Or maybe he did nothing important at all; maybe he built some trivial gadget that Empak has glorified beyond recognition. In either case, we ask this: Why patronize blacks, and mislead students, with fabrications? If one wants to show that blacks have made major contributions to engineering, one has numerous, genuine cases to choose from, as the Prentice Hall writers will learn if they ever look into the matter.


Lawrence S. Lerner is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. He served on the panel that wrote the current framework for science education in California's public schools, and he is a director of The Textbook League.

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 frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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