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from The Textbook Letter, July-August 1999

Keeping an Eye on the Scams, Shams and Swindles

William J. Bennetta

When Tom VanCourt wrote about Glencoe Pre-Algebra in the May-June issue of The Textbook Letter, he pointed out that the book's first chapter presents a splurge of advertising for blue jeans manufactured by Levi Strauss & Co. The advertising begins with a gushy "news" item about Strauss jeans that are made to order, and Glencoe attributes the item to a newspaper in Columbus, Ohio. Here is the item in full, including the strings of dots that Glencoe has used in place of conventional punctuation:

The search is over . . . Jeans that fit!

Source: The Columbus Dispatch,
December 27, 1994

Too long, too short, too big, too small . . . While jeans may be the most popular fashion of all time, sometimes finding a pair that fits is like searching for buried treasure. But Levi Strauss, the original maker of jeans, is coming to the rescue. You can now go to a store and get a pair of jeans made to measure. A salesperson takes four measurements on you and enters them into a computer. After some fancy figuring, the computer chooses a trial pair of jeans for you to try on. Any necessary adjustments are made, and your order is placed through the computer directly to the factory. In three weeks, your dream jeans arrive. Being in fashion has never been so easy!

The item is patently phony. The Columbus Dispatch is a respectable paper, and stories in respectable papers don't contain hypey, hucksterish phrases like "the most popular fashion of all time" or "Being in fashion has never been so easy!"

In the time since Van Court's review ran in TTL, I have gathered some detailed information about Glencoe's fakery.

I recently telephoned the librarian at the Dispatch and asked whether his paper had carried, on 27 December 1994, an article about jeans. Yes, he said -- and a few minutes later he sent the entire piece to me by e-mail.

There was almost no correspondence between the 461-word Dispatch article and the 122-word hype-job in Glencoe Pre-Algebra.

The Dispatch story was the work of Marshall Hood, who specializes in writing about fashion affairs. It had appeared in Hood's regular column, "Rag Time," and it was straightforward fashion reporting. Hood described Levi Strauss & Co.'s newly introduced "Personal Pair" service, which involved the use of computers for tailoring women's jeans, and he quoted some statements made by a Levi Strauss spokesman and by an Ohio merchant whose store offered Personal Pair fittings. The Ohio merchant averred: "One of their [women's] biggest problems is proper fit in the hips and rise. They may fit in the hips, but not in the rise. Or vice versa."

Neither Hood nor the persons whom he quoted said anything about "the most popular fashion of all time," nor did anyone declare that "Being in fashion has never been so easy!"

The case is clear: The writers of Glencoe Pre-Algebra have taken the Dispatch story, have turned it into promotional claptrap by rewriting or discarding almost every bit of it, and have falsely attributed their claptrap to the Dispatch.

In his review of Glencoe's book, Tom VanCourt wrote:

Product-placement advertising is well established in the film and television industries: Corporations pay fees to secure the "placement" (i.e., the displaying or mentioning) of their products in films, television dramas, or game shows. Now, it seems, corporations can also buy placements in Glencoe schoolbooks.

And Glencoe, it seems, has contrived another device for deceiving teachers and students -- fake "news."


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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