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from The Textbook Letter, January-February 1998

Reviewing a high-school book in geography

Glencoe World Geography:
A Physical and Cultural Approach

1997. 786 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-821713-6.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

A Fluffy, Silly Book with Weird Embellishments

William J. Bennetta

The 1997 incarnation of Glencoe World Geography is essentially a reprint of the 1995 version -- the version that Paul Thomas and I reviewed in The Textbook Letter a while ago. (See "Replacing Real Geography with Fluff and Happy-Talk" in TTL, September-October 1996.) The 1997 book shows some changes, but these are few and usually trivial. Glencoe World Geography is still a fluffy mass of candy and confetti, and the 1997 version seems to be interchangeable with the 1995 in any practical context.

What is noteworthy about the 1997 version is not its content but the embellishments that it carries:

I shall return to these matters after I tell you why I say that this 1997 book is, for all practical purposes, interchangeable with its predecessor.

Sampling the Pages

The pagination in the 1997 book is identical to the pagination in the 1995. To look for differences in content, I randomly chose 76 pages in the student's edition of the 1997 book (starting with page 3 and ending with page 757), and I compared them with the like-numbered pages in the student's edition of the 1995. Here are all the differences that I found:

After my inspection of pages picked at random, I toured the 1997 book and looked specifically for changes in some 50 items that Paul Thomas and I had cited in our review of the 1995. I found changes in six of them:

As far as its broader characteristics are concerned, the 1997 book is identical to the 1995 in every way. It still cuts the world into unexplained "regions," including regions that lack any evident basis in geography. It still fails to provide the "cultural approach" promised in its subtitle (though it does still furnish occasional glimpses of silly cultural stereotypes). And it still deals in meaningless statements, invented "information" and contradictions -- even patently contradictory notions about where Europe is.

Who Did It?

That Glencoe has recycled a lame book, with only minimal alteration, doesn't strike me as remarkable. I am interested, however, in Glencoe's claim about the origin of the recycled version.

On the title page of the 1995 version of Glencoe World Geography, Glencoe declared that book to be the work of a single author: "Richard G. Boehm, Ph.D., Professor of Geography, Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas." But on both the cover and the title page of the 1997 version, Glencoe claims that this version's principal author is "National Geographic Society," with Boehm shown in the role of second author. Moreover, the Society's name and logo are displayed on several pages inside the book.

On its face, Glencoe's assertion that the provenance of the 1997 book differs from that of the 1995 seems ludicrous because the two books are so closely similar to each other -- so similar that in most cases, the same-numbered pages in both books seem identical. In principle, I suppose, Glencoe might plausibly claim that the Society is the principal author of both books, but I find no plausibility whatsoever in the claim that the Society is the principal author of the 1997 book alone.

I intend to pursue this matter further by sending a written inquiry to the Society. The important questions, I believe, are these: Is the Society the principal author of any version of Glencoe World Geography? -- and if so, does the Society accept responsibility for that versions's content? I shall report the results of my inquiry in a later issue of TTL.

Turning from the student's edition to the teacher's edition, I find something else that raises questions. The sales-promotion material at the front of the teacher's edition starts with a passage titled "National Standards in Geography," and the passage begins thus:

Since 1994, states have been successfully implementing "standards" in a variety of school subjects, one of which is geography. The purpose of the geography standards is to provide guidance for teachers, parents, and school officials so that students can perform at internationally competitive levels as we approach the twenty-first century.

HISTORYNational goals and standards in geography, published under the title Geography for Life (1994), were developed under Goals 2000: Educate America Act . . . .

False. The real title of the document that Glencoe is trying to mention is Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994, and the writing of that document was begun in July 1993. The Goals 2000 Act did not become law until March 1994, and it did not institute any mechanism for originating any national subject-matter standards. Rather, it established procedures for the federal certification of national subject-matter standards, without specifying how those standards would be developed. Any standards submitted for federal certification were to be evaluated by the National Education Standards and Improvement Council (NESIC), whose members were to be appointed by the president.

But those things didn't happen. Aided by a scandal over some "history standards" written by a leftist organization in California, foes of the Act's national-standards program succeeded in overpowering it and then killing it. No appointments to NESIC were ever made, and no standards were ever certified. NESIC itself was abolished in April of 1996, when President Clinton signed an omnibus appropriations bill that included various amendments to the Goals 2000 Act.

None of that is reported in Glencoe's promotional piece, and Glencoe's claim that the Geography for Life standards were "developed under Goals 2000: Educate America Act" is meaningless.

As a whole, the promotional piece fills two pages and includes a survey of the "six essential elements" and the eighteen standards that were promulgated in Geography for Life. Glencoe tells us that "These standards provide a framework for the geographic knowledge students should have and the skills they should be able to execute" -- and later the company says that "Glencoe World Geography is a program designed to assist students in the achievement of world-class standards in geography." To me, all of this seems to imply that students who use Glencoe World Geography will see a presentation of geography which honors the "world-class standards" in Geography for Life.

In fact, however, what students will see in Glencoe World Geography is material that is keyed not to the six-element Geography for Life scheme but to the "five themes of geography" that have been used for years: location, place, movement, region, and interactions between humans and their environments. (Indeed, those five themes are mentioned in the promotional piece, in some fog-talk that manages to muddle the themes with the "national standards," creating confusion.) If there is any place in Glencoe World Geography where students will read material based on the Geography for Life standards, I have failed to find it.

I consider this to be both important and puzzling because the National Geographic Society -- allegedly the principal author of Glencoe's 1997 book -- was one of the four organizations behind Geography for Life. According to its title page, Geography for Life was developed by the Geography Education Standards Project, acting "on behalf of" the American Geographical Society, the Association of American Geographers, the National Council for Geographic Education, and the National Geographic Society.

Can it be true that the Society joined in sponsoring the creation of the Geography for Life standards, but then functioned as the principal author of a book that is conspicuously oblivious to those very standards? If so, what is the explanation for this? I shall pose those questions, too, in my written inquiry to the Society, and I shall report the results in these pages. Maybe I shall also try to learn whether anyone at the National Geographic Society knows where Europe is.


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.


Pointer Click here to learn how the 1997 version of Glencoe World Geography
recycles a phony tale about a "religious revival" in Russia.
Pointer Click here to learn how the National Geographic Society's director
of education products reacted to a written inquiry: Had the NGS
really been involved in the creation of Glencoe World Geography?

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