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from The Textbook Letter, July-August 1999

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Biology: An Everyday Experience
1999. 744 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-825685-9.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

Thirteen Dumbbells and an "interNET" Too!

William J. Bennetta

It recently has become permissible to acknowledge that our public-education establishment is infested with impostors and incompetents -- ignorant teachers who never have studied the subjects that they allegedly are teaching, education administrators who themselves have had little education, and ed-school professors who are just feckless cranks. Accounts of widespread incompetence among classroom teachers, in particular, are appearing not only in the popular press but also in professional publications.

So today everyone knows what the major schoolbook companies have known all along. The companies have long recognized that the teacher corps in America includes some desperate dumbbells, and the companies have learned to produce books that the dumbbells will like.

Biology: An Everyday Experience is a textbook aimed squarely at the dumbbell market -- a textbook for teachers who don't have a clue. And it apparently has been a commercial success, for Glencoe has found no reason to alter it during the past seven years.

When I reviewed the 1992 incarnation of An Everyday Experience I compared it to the worthless biology books that had been common during the 1970s. Bereft of any theme and any rational organization, An Everyday Experience was a giddy mess of nature stuff (including lots of fake "facts") leavened with religious myths, health tips, old wives' tales and anthropocentric fantasies, and it made no sense at all. In one particularly memorable section, Glencoe's writers falsely equated "scientific method" with experimentation, then presented a fake "experiment" that obviously could not work [see note 1, below].

What I found most noteworthy, though, was an item near the very front of the book. It was a list of thirteen educators who had served as "reviewers" of An Everyday Experience and who apparently had judged, on behalf of their fellow dumbbells, that it was fine and dandy. Even the fact that Glencoe's so-called experiment was ignorant humbug had apparently eluded all of them. I considered their collective performance to be so impressive that I concluded my analysis by quoting the names and the affiliations of all thirteen reviewers, as listed in the book.

The 1999 Version

The 1999 version of An Everyday Experience is practically interchangeable with the 1992. Here are the most conspicuous differences between the two versions:

The only other differences that I have noticed are tiny. When I randomly chose 69 pages in the 1999 book and compared them with the like-numbered pages in the 1992 book, I observed six cases in which the wording of a paragraph or a picture-caption has undergone trivial alteration.

The 1999 version, then, is virtually the same as the 1992. It offers the same giddy mess of nature stuff (including lots of fake "facts") leavened with religious myths, health tips, old wives' tales and anthropocentric fantasies, and it makes no sense at all. The fake "experiment" is still here, as dumb as ever. Alex Haley is still here, too: Glencoe's hacks are still glorifying him and his bogus book (in a shamefully dishonest article on page 66), and they are still equating his shenanigans with science! Likewise, they are still dispensing scores of ridiculous, unexplained one-liners: They say, for example, that blackboard chalk "comes from tiny living things found in the ocean" and that "The flavors of coffee and cocoa are due to bacteria." (If you were a young student who knew nothing about any commercial fermentation processes, and nothing about the materials that are used in producing the coffee and the cocoa that you see on supermarket shelves, what would you make of the statement that "The flavors of coffee and cocoa are due to bacteria"?) Of course, the writers are still promoting their nonsensical categorization of the animal kingdom into "simple" animals and "complex" animals [note 2], and they continue to relegate organic evolution to a single, late chapter, so students will not learn how or why evolution functions as the grand, unifying principle of modern biology. They also continue to promote, in chapter 15, a disgraceful "Lab" activity in which the teacher must deceive students. This activity -- titled "Is glucose found in the urine of a person with diabetes?" -- requires the teacher to tell lies about the "investigation" that the students are performing and about the materials that they are using.

Glencoe's Web Pages

The 1999 version, as I reported above, has 32 "interNET CONNECTION" notes that advertise a Glencoe Web site. These notes evidently are intended to dazzle the dumbbells and create the impression that the 1999 book is hip and up-to-date.

All the notes are identical: "For more information about the material in this chapter, follow the link for the chapter on the Glencoe Homepage at http://www.glencoe.com".

All the notes are erroneous: I learned this just as soon as I went to "the Glencoe Homepage" to see what lay in store for students who might want "more information."

The page at http://www.glencoe.com was not a page for students, and it did not say anything about An Everyday Experience. It was a promotional display, aimed at Glencoe's customers or prospective customers, and it offered links to several categories of McGraw-Hill products, such as "SECONDARY EDUCATION," "POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION" and "MCGRAW-HILL LEARNING TECHNOLOGIES." It also offered links to "Customer Service," "Technical Support" and "Sales Representatives," among other things. I didn't know what a student would do when confronted with that irrelevant array, but I decided to poke around and to follow some of the promotional links. When I tried the link for "SECONDARY EDUCATION," which presumably included high-school biology, I obtained a page aimed at teachers. It showed a list of twenty subjects, from "Mathematics" and "Science" through "Driver Education," and it offered the teachers a "Tip Of the Day" -- "Communicate with parents about both positive and negative aspects of their child's academic performance. . . ."

After noting the Tip, I worked my way downward through two more levels of links that were aimed at teachers.

A student, I reckoned, would already have abandoned the search for "more information" about material in An Everyday Experience and would have fled from Glencoe's Web site. But I was fascinated by the site's opacity and incompetence, so I continued to poke around -- and I got lucky. I found a page showing pictures of four books that Glencoe alleges to be biology books.

I clicked on the picture of An Everyday Experience. This led me to a menu that offered "Web Links" and a "Teacher Forum" link. I moved my cursor onto "Web Links," and -- lo! -- I obtained a subsidiary menu that promised links for each chapter in the book! I had arrived.

When I clicked on "Chapter 1," I got a list of four links. The first was a link to the Yahoo search engine, which (Glencoe said) could be used "to find any topic in biology." How helpful!

The second item on the list was a link to the Educational Resources Information Center's "AskERIC" page. This was a page for teachers, not students, and it offered some subsidiary links. There was, for example, a link that would allow teachers to see more than 1,100 lesson plans, and there was a link to a question-and-answer service -- "Ask a question about educational theory or practice and receive a personalized e-mail response in two business days." I couldn't infer why any student, seeking more information about the material in chapter 1 of An Everyday Experience, would want to ask questions about educational theory or practice.

The third item on the list was a link to a site that allegedly had "a detailed history of the light microscope." I clicked, and I got a message that said "Not Found." Apparently, there was no such site.

The last item on the list was a link that took me to "Dennis Kunkel's Microscopy," a series of pages that told about microscopy and presented many photomicrographs.

By then I had expended a considerable amount of time in rummaging through the Glencoe Web pages, but I wasn't yet ready to leave. I already had learned that the "interNET CONNECTION" notes in An Everyday Experience were useless to the student, and I had inferred that the only clear purpose of those "interNET CONNECTION" notes was to con dumb teachers, and I had seen that the Glencoe Web pages were elaborate junk, but I had to make one more stop. Recalling the deplorable "Lab" activity in chapter 15 of An Everyday Experience (the activity that allegedly dealt with diabetes, and that required the teacher to tell lies), I wanted to inspect Glencoe's links for that chapter.

There were two. The first, titled "The Endocrine System," promised me a site which would display "art and descriptions of the organs involved in the endocrine system." When I clicked on this link, I got a report which shouted "Forbidden" and which told me that I did not have permission to visit the site in question.

The second link -- labeled "Diabetes, Mediconsult.com" -- would furnish "information on diabetes," Glencoe said. When I clicked on it, I got a "Not Found" report.

And that was the end of my visit to the Glencoe Web pages.

All in a Row

The 1999 version of An Everyday Experience, like the 1992 version, is trash. But even so, Glencoe has rounded up a bunch of "reviewers" who evidently have examined the 1999 book and have found it to be great stuff. You will not be surprised to learn that these "reviewers," whose names and affiliations appear on the 1999 version's copyright page, are the same thirteen who endorsed the 1992 book. Let me commemorate them again: John A. Beach, Fairless High School, Navarre, Ohio. Tony Beasley, Davidson County School Board, Nashville, Tennessee. Brenda Carrillo, McCollum High School, San Antonio, Texas. Renee M. Carroll, Taylor County High School, Perry, Florida. Dixie Duncan, Williams Township School, Whiteville, North Carolina. Margorae Freimuth, Argenta-Oreanna High School, Argenta, Illinois. Raymond P. Gipson, Blue Ridge High School, Morgan Hill, California. Karen S. Hewitt, Coldspring High School, Coldspring, Texas. Marilyn B. Jacobs, Huffman Eastgate High School, Huffman, Texas. Rex J. Kartchner, St. David High School, St. David, Arizona. Barbara B. Kruse, Alamosa High School, Alamosa, Colorado. Lynn M. Smith, Waterville High School, Waterville, Maine. Ouida E. Thomas, B.F. Terry High School, Rosenberg, Texas.

Notes

  1. See "This 'Biology' Book Is a Horror from the 1970s" in TTL for September-October 1994. [return to text]

  2. See "Follow the Bouncing Squid" in TTL for September-October 1994. [return to text]


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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