Originally created 01/26/01

Error-filled textbooks



As a general rule students across the country, including our two-state area, get off to a good start in elementary school then fall behind in middle school, particularly in math and science courses.

So what gives with middle schools? Poor parenting and teaching draw much of the blame, but now there's a new culprit: Lousy textbooks.

Next to teachers, textbooks are the most important element in learning. But if what the books teach are wrong, then the adage about computers is also true for students: Garbage in, garbage out.

An independent two-year study of the nation's 12 most widely used middle school science books turned up stunning examples of hundreds of errors. No wonder so many kids falter in middle school.

It's hard to exaggerate just how plentiful and off the mark the mistakes are - about 500 pages of them, says North Carolina State University physics Professor John Hubisz who spearheaded the study.

The books contain incomprehensible illustrations, irrelevant photographs, lab experiment instructions that cannot work and drawings that are wrongly captioned.

Of course, there are also countless errors of fact, some of which anyone paying an iota of attention to content wouldn't miss - for instance, identifying pop singer Linda Ronstadt as a silicon crystal. Is that worse than failing to get Newton's first law of physics right, as one textbook did?

Hubisz and his research group informed the textbook publishers of the errors, and some promised corrections and updates. But for the most part, they defended the texts. Some even had more errors in later editions after being told.

Let's at least hope educators heed Hubisz's advice. He urges them to put pressure on publishers to get science-knowledgeable authors to write the texts - and to double check the material.

Presently there are more people checking for textbooks' political correctness than for accuracy. Sacrificing substance for style is just another way to dumb down the curricula - and hurt our kids.