from The Textbook Letter, September-October 1999

Keeping an Eye on the Scams, Shams and Swindles

William J. Bennetta

A History of US, published by Oxford University Press, is a series of American-history books suitable for use in the higher elementary grades and in middle schools. In its original form, the series consisted of ten slim volumes. Some were dated in 1993, some in 1994, and some in 1995.

Oxford is now selling an expanded version of A History of US that comprises eleven volumes, all dated in 1999. The first ten volumes, which correspond to the ten in the original series, are books for students. The eleventh, titled Sourcebook and Index: Documents That Shaped the American Nation, is evidently intended for use by teachers -- and in the section headlined "How to Use This Book," Oxford tries to bamboozle teachers by making a bogus promotional claim: "This book," Oxford says, "contains excerpts from many of the documents recommended on state frameworks and that support the National History Standards."

Oxford thus imitates Glencoe and the other companies that have sought to promote their schoolbooks by making deceptive statements about "national standards." (See, for example, the review of Glencoe World Geography in The Textbook Letter for January-February 1998.)

All such claims are deceptive because no national standards exist. The federal program for erecting national subject-matter standards collapsed during 1995 and was formally abolished in 1996, and no subject-matter standards were ever certified. In fact, the federal panel that would have been responsible for evaluating proposed standards, and for deciding whether they deserved to be certified and promulgated, was never convened. So much for the national standards.

I have remarked before, in these pages, that publishers' attitudes toward educators can be discerned from the claims that the publishers make in their advertisements, in their catalogues, and in the teacher's editions of their books. When publishers invoke imaginary "national standards" in their promotional claims, we can deduce that they regard educators as a naive, ignorant lot -- so ignorant as to be unaware that the national-standards program came to nothing.

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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