from The Textbook Letter, September-October 1999

Reviewing a high-school book in social studies

World Cultures: A Global Mosaic
1999. 828 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-13-432847-7.
Prentice Hall. (Prentice Hall is now a division of Pearson Education,
1 Lake Street, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458. Pearson Education
is a part of Pearson PLC, a British corporation headquartered in London.)

Same Junk, Different Peddlers

William J. Bennetta

In the early 1990s a lot of lightweight educators became enthralled by the notion that students should learn about "cultures." And as soon as the "cultures" fad took hold, shady publishers rushed to exploit it by concocting fake Cultures books -- books which had little or nothing to do with cultural studies, but which displayed the word Cultures in their titles. One of those books was Prentice Hall's World Cultures: A Global Mosaic.

The first version of World Cultures was dated in 1993 [see note 1, below]. The second version, practically interchangeable with the first, was dated in 1996 [note 2]. Now we have the third version, which is dated in 1999 and is virtually identical with the 1996.

World Cultures is a mess of snippets -- evidently taken from old geography books and history books -- that have been hastily pasted together. It is a mindless jumble, and it certainly cannot be used for teaching about cultures. It fails to reflect any awareness of what cultures are, it falsely equates "cultures" with physical regions or nation-states, it fails to suggest that cultures can be studied in any rational way, it fails to show that cultural phenomena can be analyzed, explained and compared, and it fails to provide any account of any culture anywhere.

Many of the passages within this fake textbook purvey fake "information." Many of them are, in fact, displays of deliberate falsity, distortion and deceit. I am disgusted to see that the 1999 World Cultures, like the two previous versions, dispenses deceptive pseudostatistics and fake demography [note 3]. I am disgusted to see that this 1999 version, like the two earlier versions, presents Bible stories and Muslim superstitions disguised as history. I am disgusted to find that this 1999 book, like its two predecessors, teaches that human diseases are caused by evil spirits -- and I wonder where Prentice Hall recruited the degenerates who have promoted that rubbish in three successive versions of a schoolbook.

I am disgusted but I am not surprised, because Prentice Hall is notorious for loading its schoolbooks with bogus material and for reprinting such material year after year. Indeed, readers of The Textbook Letter will recall that Lawrence S. Lerner, in a review of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, demonstrated that Prentice Hall editors had reprinted material which they certainly knew to be wrong. Lerner then said: "From this I infer that Prentice Hall's attitude is: Our business is selling books -- no matter if they are junk, and no matter what the effects on teachers and students may be" [note 4].

A Cheap Fix

Prentice Hall used to be a division of Simon & Schuster but is now a part of the Pearson Education unit of Pearson PLC [note 5]. Pearson Education is the outfit which now sells the 1999 World Cultures, and Pearson Education has hastily applied two patches to the book's title page to conceal Simon & Schuster's logo and name. Apart from that cheap fix on the title page, I have found only three differences between the 1999 World Cultures and the 1996 version:

Otherwise, the two versions seem to be identical. Pearson hasn't rectified even the simplest errors of fact that appeared in the 1996 book, so World Cultures continues to teach (for example) that the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan ended twice, in two different years. Nor has Pearson bothered to replace material that is laughably obsolete: World Cultures continues to teach (for example) that the prime minister of Pakistan is Benazir Bhutto [note 7]. Nor has Pearson replaced material that is utterly stupid: World Cultures still contains (for example) a section titled "Stone Age People" that was concocted by writers who had no idea of the meaning of the term Stone Age.

Let me close by borrowing Lawrence S. Lerner's term "junk": The 1999 version of World Cultures -- like the two earlier versions -- is junk. And the Pearson Education functionaries who are promoting this book to ignorant and gullible teachers are junk-peddlers.


  1. Three reviews of the 1993 version ran in The Textbook Letter for March-April 1994, with these headlines: "A Trivial, Ill-Conceived Book Telling Little About Cultures," "This Confused Book Lacks Any Clear Idea of Culture" and "It's Phony and Vicious, but It's Funny Anyway." [return to text]

  2. See "Like the 1993 Version, This Book Is Worthless" in TTL for May-June 1995. [return to text]

  3. See "A Nasty Bit of Fake Demography" in TTL, September-October 1993. [return to text]

  4. Lerner's review, titled "Educators Should Avoid This Book Like the Plague," appeared in TTL, September-October 1995. [return to text]

  5. Pearson PLC bought all of Simon & Schuster's schoolbook operations in 1998. See "Pearson's New Schoolbook Enterprise" in TTL for November-December 1998, page 11. [return to text]

  6. The depiction of Islam in World Cultures is relentlessly deceptive. Islam is whitewashed, essential aspects of Islam's history are hidden or misrepresented, important manifestations of Islam in today's world are misrepresented or evaded, and Islamic myths are cast as accounts of real events. The Muhammad-and-Gabriel myth is promoted twice: It appears on page 569 and then, curiously, it is repeated on page 570. The notion that Muhammad heard the voice of Gabriel is explicitly presented as fact. So is the notion that Gabriel conferred on Muhammad the "mission" of being "God's prophet," and so is the claim that "The words Gabriel spoke to Muhammad over the next 12 years became the Koran, the holy book of Islam." I conclude that the entire treatment of Islam in World Cultures has been dictated by some Muslim pressure group. [return to text]

  7. The Pakistani political figure Benazir Bhutto twice gained the post of prime minister, and she twice was expelled from office -- first in 1990, then in 1996 -- under a law that enables Pakistan's president to dismiss the prime minister and the minister's entire administration. The president who gave Bhutto the boot in 1996 declared that corruption, nepotism and law-breaking fostered by her administration had paralyzed the country and had destroyed all public faith in "the integrity and honesty of government." That declaration was similar to one that had accompanied the 1990 booting, but in 1996 the circumstances were notably different: In 1996 the man who held the office of president was a member of her own political party. The corruption that pervaded Benazir Bhutto's second administration was particularly conspicuous in the doings of her husband, Alif Ali Zardari, who held a post in her cabinet and earned the epithet "Mr. Ten Per Cent." [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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