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This article appeared in the "Editor's File" in
The Textbook Letter, January-February 1996.

"Cultural" Nonsense

William J. Bennetta

Here is the entire text of an item in the 1996 version of Teen Health, a middle-school book published by the Glencoe Division of McGraw-Hill. The item appears on page 302, under the heading "Cultural Diversity":

Sickle-cell anemia is an inherited condition that affects the ability of blood to circulate properly. The condition is found mainly among people whose cultural roots are in Africa, India, and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.

Now here is the truth. Sickle-cell anemia has nothing to do with culture or cultural diversity, or with anyone's "cultural roots." It has nothing to do with anything except a mutant gene that dictates an abnormal sequence of amino acids in the Beta chain of hemoglobin. The occurrence of sickle-cell anemia depends on the occurrence and transmission of this gene, and on nothing else.

Glencoe's writers seem to be indulging in a nasty practice that has become fashionable during the past few years: Schoolbook-writers try to mislead students by confusing culture with race -- or, more broadly, by confusing traits that are transmitted intellectually with traits that are transmitted genetically. I infer that the writers do this for the purpose of pandering to the multi-culti crowd, since the conflating of "culture" with genes plays a part in multi-culti ideology.

Maybe the next version of Teen Health will endorse the doctrine of "guilt through the blood." That one is rather old, I admit, but maybe Glencoe's writers can find a way to freshen it up. It would fit right in with the notion that abnormal hemoglobin is a "cultural" trait, and it would be no less fatuous.


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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