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from The Textbook Letter, September-October 1999

Reviewing a mathematics textbook

Glencoe Pre-Algebra
An Integrated Transition to Algebra & Geometry
1999. 843 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-833240-7.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

This Schoolbook Is Stuck in Time

Tom VanCourt

Readers who have seen my long review of the 1997 version of Glencoe Pre-Algebra know that this book is an 800-page tribute to "fuzzy math," the travesty that now has replaced the disastrous "new math" fad of the 1960s and 1970s. Fuzzy math (also known as "new new math," "maybe math," "rain-forest math" and "math appreciation") is based not on real mathematics but on a hodgepodge of notions drawn from pop culture.

In fuzzy-math courses, students learn little about the established principles of mathematics, or about rigorous mathematical reasoning, or about the classic theorems and proofs that, over the centuries, have made mathematics what it is today. Indeed, the promoters of fuzzy math discount the mathematical knowledge that humanity has accumulated over the centuries, and they insist that students must reinvent what we already know. The students are supposed to do this by engaging in quasimathematical pastimes, by performing mindless drills with calculators, and by reading irrelevant material that promotes a sociopolitical ideology derived from multi-culti, environmentalism and radical feminism.

All those follies of fuzzy math were conspicuous in the 1997 Glencoe Pre-Algebra -- a confused, confusing book that swarmed with irrelevant pictures, pointless anecdotes, politically correct sidebars, and ideological inanities. After reading that 1997 book, I was left wondering how anyone could learn any math from it [see note 1, below].

The 1999 version of Glencoe Pre-Algebra is no better. I have compared the two versions side-by-side, and I have found very few differences between them. Glencoe has reprinted all the old errors and contradictions that I described in my review of the 1997 book, as well as the irrelevant stories, the racial fancies, and the other inanities. Indeed, Glencoe Pre-Algebra is stuck in time:

More Failures

Those items screamed to be updated, but the Glencoe writers have left them unchanged. It's no surprise, therefore, to find that the writers have failed to change many other unacceptable items that appeared in the 1997 book. As examples:

New Colors!

Although a great deal of lame, outdated or plainly erroneous material has been carried into the 1999 version without modification, this version is not quite identical to the 1997. It shows some little changes and one big innovation. I'll tell you about the little changes first:

A New Class of Distractions!

Now here is the big innovation that Glencoe has unveiled in the 1999 version of Glencoe Pre-Algebra. The Glencoe writers have invoked a new technology to create a whole new class of distractions -- "interNET CONNECTION" notes! There are about 30 such notes, including one on the first spread of each chapter, and they all direct the student to seek "current" information or "up-to-date" information or "the latest" information by visiting a Glencoe Web page at www.glencoe.com/sec/math/prealg/mathnet. There is no explanation of why the student should do this, no explanation of why the current information hasn't been placed in the book itself, no explanation of why Glencoe has spelled Internet as "interNET," and no explanation of why Glencoe has restated the same Web-page address again and again, in all the notes.

This may sound familiar. The "interNET CONNECTION" notes in the 1999 Glencoe Pre-Algebra are much like the ones that Max G. Rodel recently found in Glencoe's Chemistry: Concepts and Applications [note 4] and much like the ones that frustrated William J. Bennetta when he reviewed Glencoe's Biology: An Everyday Experience [note 5].

Every "interNET CONNECTION" note in Glencoe Pre-Algebra provides a new way for the reader to wander away from the topic at hand and to become lost among irrelevancies, as I learned during my own examination of Glencoe's Web offerings. For example:

On page 132 of the book, in the chapter "Solving One-Step Equations and Inequalities," an arithmetic problem involves the exchanging of currency: "Paloma's social studies class was planning an imaginary trip to Kenya. Paloma had to find out about the rate of exchange for money in Kenya. She learned that money in Kenya is based on shillings and that the current exchange rate was one U.S. dollar for 40 shillings. If one night at a hotel cost 960 shillings, how much would that be in U.S. dollars?" Adjacent to that problem is an "interNET CONNECTION" note: "For the latest exchange rates, visit: www.glencoe.com/sec/math/prealg/mathnet". I couldn't perceive that this would be of any use to a student, since the only exchange rate that the student needed to know was the rate stated in the problem (40:1), and there was no other exchange-rate problem in the rest of the chapter. But I followed Glencoe's directions anyway, and I inspected the prealg/mathnet page to see what a student would find there.

The prealg/mathnet page said nothing at all about exchange rates. The prealg/mathnet page was a menu that gave me a choice between items pertaining to Glencoe Pre-Algebra and items related to another book, Mathematics Connections: Integrated and Applied. I clicked to select the 1999 Glencoe Pre-Algebra, and I got another menu. This one was obviously intended for use by teachers, not students, and it offered links to six bins of material: "Online Study Tools," "Chapter Introductions," "Investigations," "Data Updates," "Group Activities," "Classroom Vignettes." Because none of those six bins had been mentioned in the "interNET CONNECTION" note on page 132 of the textbook, I had to use trial-and-error to discover which bin might contain information about "the latest exchange rates."

It turned out to be the "Data Updates" bin. When I clicked on "Data Updates," I got a new menu that offered one link for each chapter in the book. The link for chapter 3 said: "Chapter 3 (page 132) Current exchange rates." I clicked on it, and I was transported to a commercial Web page titled "The Universal Currency Converter" -- but the converter wasn't universal enough to include the Kenyan shilling. To find a conversion rate for the Kenyan shilling, I had to follow a link from "The Universal Currency Converter" to another Web page.

If there was any relation between those Web maneuvers and "Solving One-Step Equations and Inequalities" -- the subject of chapter 3 in Glencoe Pre-Algebra -- it was too subtle for me to grasp.

Here are some other observations that I made as I followed Glencoe's "interNET CONNECTION" notes:

Glencoe has done little for students by appending "interNET CONNECTION" notes and Web pages to an obsolete book that is stuck in time. These add-ons typically are irrelevant distractions -- and when I remember that access to the Internet is a limited resource in many schools, I find that the add-ons have inflicted a net loss on the book's value [note 6].

When I wrote about the 1997 version of Glencoe Pre-Algebra, I said that I disliked the book's exclusive reliance on the Texas Instruments model TI-82 calculator. Now I dislike it even more. The TI-82 is now quite obsolete -- but because Glencoe Pre-Algebra is stuck in time, the calculator exercises in the 1999 version of this book are the same TI-82 exercises that were in the 1997 version. In the real world, the TI-82 has been supplanted by the TI-83, which Texas Instruments introduced in 1996, and I no longer can find a TI-82 in any store. Store clerks have told me that the TI-83 works in much the same way as the TI-82, but I would rather have learned about this from Glencoe. Though Glencoe's writers and editors have had plenty of time to incorporate the TI-83 into Glencoe Pre-Algebra, they haven't done so.

I saw little reason to recommend the 1997 version of Glencoe Pre-Algebra, and I see no reason at all to recommend the 1999.

Notes

  1. See "Glencoe's Manual of Fuzz" in TTL, May-June 1999. [return to text]

  2. Even in 1997 Glencoe's statement about Williams's age was erroneous. See "Time Warp" in TTL, July-August 1999, page 11. [return to text]

  3. See "Keeping an Eye on the Scams, Shams and Swindles" in TTL, July-August 1999, page 13. [return to text]

  4. See the review " 'interNET' Gimcracks in an Old, Dumb Book" in TTL, July-August 1999, page 1. [return to text]

  5. See the review "Thirteen Dumbbells and an 'interNET' Too!" in TTL, July-August 1999, page 9. [return to text]

  6. I can't say, of course, whether Glencoe has changed any of its Web pages since the day when I looked at them. [return to text]


Tom VanCourt is a software engineer. His review in this issue originated from his work with a charitable organization that makes audiotapes of textbooks, for use by blind or dyslexic students. He lives in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

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