Prentice Hall's weak links

Editor's Introduction -- In the realm of public education, fads constitute the very staff of life. "Integration," or "linking," is an ed-fad which calls for making lots of connections between different subjects -- e.g., between economics and music, or between physics and literature -- even if the connections are tenuous or phony. Watch what happens when some Prentice Hall writers, during their efforts to exploit the integration fad, try to link physics to famous stories written by Jack London and by Mark Twain.
This article ran in The Textbook Letter for January-February 1993.
It accompanied a review of Heat Energy, one of the books in the
Prentice Hall Science series. Prentice Hall promotes the series
for use in middle schools.

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Lawrence S. Lerner

On page 11 of Heat Energy, the writers contrive an excuse to mention Jack London's famous story To Build a Fire. They evidently have not read it, for they call it an "exciting adventure story" and a "thrilling tale." In fact, however, it is a sober little tragedy about a man who dies in a grim but utterly mundane way: He freezes to death because of his own persistent incompetence, while his dog survives. The story reflects Jack London's wrong-headed tendency to view human affairs in terms of Herbert Spencer's quasi-Darwinian slogan "the survival of the fittest."

The Prentice Hall writers' bogus description of To Build a Fire reminds me of similar stuff in Prentice Hall's book Motion, Forces, and Energy, which I reviewed in an earlier issue of The Textbook Letter. On page 20 of Motion, Forces, and Energy the student reads: "Sometimes you may wish that a . . . swoosh of water could carry you off on a wonderful adventure. Tom Sawyer got just such an adventure courtesy of the Mississippi River." On the same page, a note to the teacher says: "You may want to have students read the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and relate Tom's ratting experience to the concepts they have learned . . . ." But the writers' guess is wrong. Mark Twain's renowned novel about a journey by raft is Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Lawrence S. Lerner is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. His specialties are condensed-matter physics, the history of science, and science education. He is a director of The Textbook League.


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