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This item appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, May-June 1996.

A Welcome Rectification

William J. Bennetta

The National Science Teachers Association (Arlington, Virginia) deserves praise for rectifying a serious mistake.

The mistake was the NSTA's endorsement of an atrocious book called Biology Teacher's Survival Guide, which was issued in 1993 by something called "The Center for Applied Research in Education," a unit of Simon & Schuster. The Survival Guide promotes creationist hogwash, tells teachers to depict scientific findings and religious myths as if these were equivalent alternatives, and urges teachers to address the history of life in terms of "two main theories" called "evolutionism and creationism." The Survival Guide thus advocates the creationists' infamous "two-model" approach -- a purely religious invention that possesses no scientific validity and is unlawful in public schools.

Despite all this, the Survival Guide has been promoted in the NSTA's catalogue of publications, and copies of the Survival Guide have been sold by the NSTA at its national and regional conventions.

Now, however, the NSTA seems to have straightened things out. According to its executive director, Gerald F. Wheeler, the NSTA has withdrawn its endorsement of the Survival Guide and will no longer offer the Survival Guide for sale.

It is hard to guess why the NSTA decided to plug the Survival Guide in the first place, because the book is utterly brainless. It was written by one Michael F. Fleming, who evidently has no idea that science is an intellectual endeavor. He seems to imagine that the teaching of biology is a sort of administrative function, and that a teacher can fulfill this function by merely consuming time, dispensing amusement, and avoiding inconvenience.

The Survival Guide has 277 pages but little substantive content. About 100 pages offer "worksheet activities," which consist of mindless quizzes and juvenile puzzles. The rest of the book comprises laboratory exercises (indistinguishable from the ones that appear in typical biology textbooks or life-science textbooks), advice about administrative tasks (such as making a seating chart), and instructions for elaborate, empty pastimes (such as using cakes and candies for making edible models of anatomical structures, or making costumes that enable students to disguise themselves as cells or organs). All in all, Fleming's material ranges from the inane to the idiotic.

Fleming's notions about teaching "evolutionism and creationism" appear in a section called "General Classroom Management Techniques," along with such topics as "Handling Student Lateness to Class" and "Keeping Inventory of Major Laboratory Equipment and General Supplies." For Fleming, organic evolution isn't the grand, unifying concept of modern biology. For Fleming, evolution isn't a scientific matter at all; it is just an administrative difficulty that the teacher must circumvent -- and if a student's parents don't want the student to hear about "any theory [sic] other than what is taught at home," the teacher should simply tell the student to perform "alternative assignments such as preparing a paper dealing with his or her own belief system."

(Any teacher who is worthy of the name will immediately reject Fleming's notion that the iteration of a "belief system" can be substituted for the learning of science. What if a student belongs to a quackish cult whose members reject vaccination and believe that infectious diseases are caused by Satanic vibrations? What if a student belongs to a sect which teaches that heredity is controlled by the "male force," with no contribution by the female? Without doubt, Fleming would say that such students should write papers about their "belief systems" instead of learning anything about immunology, microbiology or genetics; but any respectable teacher would regard that suggestion as a gross insult.)

I am glad that the NSTA has corrected its mistake and has stopped promoting Fleming's trash.


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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