from The Textbook Letter, January-February 2000

First the Hoopla -- Then the Whitewash

In March 1999, Pearson Education staged a big publicity stunt by announcing "Open Book Publishing" -- essentially a scheme for finding errors in Pearson schoolbooks and for using the Internet to disseminate corrections to teachers. Pearson executives knew that one of their phony "science" books would soon be pilloried on the national television program 20/20, and they evidently hoped that their Open Book hoopla would serve to counteract the 20/20 presentation. Since then, lists of corrections for many Pearson books have been posted on Pearson's Web site, but the lists are superficial, incomplete and misleading: They have been rigged to omit many of the books' defects and to conceal many of the books' worst derangements. Pearson's Open Book Publishing is a sham.

William J. Bennetta

Pearson Education, owned by the British corporation Pearson PLC, is one of the biggest textbook companies in the United States. It was created by Pearson PLC in the autumn of 1998, after Pearson PLC bought all of Simon & Schuster's schoolbook divisions. These included Prentice Hall, Silver Burdett Ginn, and Globe Fearon. Pearson combined the Simon & Schuster operations with Addison Wesley Longman (a company that Pearson PLC had owned since 1995) and conferred the name "Pearson Education" on the resulting agglomeration [see note 1, below].

Pearson Education now markets schoolbooks carrying some of the best-known imprints in the business, such as Prentice Hall, Silver Burdett Ginn, Globe Fearon, Addison-Wesley, Scott Foresman and Modern Curriculum. Pearson also owns a newer imprint -- Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley -- that has been fashioned from two of the others.

In March 1999, with considerable hoopla, Pearson announced the introduction of "Open Book Publishing" -- essentially a scheme for finding errors in Pearson schoolbooks and for using the Internet to disseminate corrections to teachers. In a policy statement that Pearson posted on the World Wide Web on 24 March, and in a press release that was distributed on 25 March, Pearson declared that the Open Book Publishing program would have several components:

  • Pearson would carry out a "comprehensive review and audit" of all of its "45,000 school textbooks and ancillary materials." (Most of these are products that Pearson inherited when it bought Prentice Hall and the other schoolbook divisions of Simon & Schuster.) This review-and-audit work -- aimed at identifying and correcting "factual errors" -- was already in progress, Pearson said. It would be completed by the end of 1999.

  • Upon discovering errors or other defects in Pearson materials, the company would use the Internet to notify educators and to supply appropriate corrections. Pearson referred to this part of the Open Book Publishing program as the "Open Book Internet Initiative" and described it thus: "[W]e have established a new disclosure policy that will alert educators teaching from our textbooks of [sic] factual errors, which will occur despite the most rigorous quality procedures. Corrections and teacher support materials will be posted on the Web sites of the divisions that support these texts beginning in September 1999."

  • Pearson would hire a "director of standards and quality" who would "take charge of these responsibilities" and would "convene an independent panel of prestigious authors and content experts to oversee and review textbook content." The director of standards and the prestigious panel would be responsible for the review-and-audit of existing products, and they also would "oversee and review content of new textbooks to verify accuracy."

  • Some "specific measures" would be invoked during the reviewing of instructional materials dealing with science and mathematics, Pearson said, and "Every science experiment that appears in our school textbooks will be field-tested, videotaped, and the resulting data verified to ensure validity and predictability of results."

At first glance, those proclamations suggested that the company was undertaking a revolutionary effort to improve the quality and usefulness of schoolbooks.

At second glance, Pearson's proclamations didn't make sense. The notion of reviewing 45,000 schoolbooks and other instructional items in only nine months was absurd on its face. Equally absurd was Pearson's assertion that the "comprehensive review and audit" was already in progress: According to Pearson's own statements, the company had not yet hired the person who would direct the "comprehensive review and audit," and the prestigious review-and-audit panel had not yet been assembled.

Why was Pearson Education issuing statements that did not add up?

What was Pearson Education doing?

Pearson Education was staging a publicity stunt. The stunt was apparently intended to impress security analysts, fund managers, and other financial types whose actions could affect the fortunes of Pearson Education's parent company, Pearson PLC. On 24 March -- the same day when Pearson Education posted its "Open Book Publishing Policy Statement" on the Web -- Pearson Education's chief executive officer, Peter Jovanovich, promoted the Open Book Publishing scheme at a conference sponsored by BT Alex. Brown, an investment-banking company.

Jovanovich and his associates at Pearson Education knew that one of their phony "science" textbooks, Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, would soon be pilloried on the ABC television network's program 20/20. They evidently hoped that their Open Book Publishing hoopla would pre-empt the financial community's attention, would counteract the damning information that 20/20 was going to make public, and would soften any negative effects that the 20/20 broadcast might exert on the market price of Pearson PLC shares.

Athans and Cohn

On 2 April 1999, 20/20 offered its viewers a vigorous segment about defective schoolbooks. Titled "Book Report," the segment was narrated by Sam Donaldson, ran for some 30 minutes, and was a fine exposé of incompetence, irresponsibility and corruption in the schoolbook industry. Donaldson cited nonsensical statements and passages that have been printed in various textbooks, but he used Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science as his principal specimen of the junk that schoolbook companies are selling and that hapless teachers and students are using in American classrooms.

I'm going to tell more about the 20/20 "Book Report" -- and I'm going to describe the grotesque "Response" that Pearson Education's chief executive issued after the 20/20 program was broadcast -- but first I must explain that a major part of that program was derived from an article that had appeared in The Sun, a good metropolitan newspaper published in Baltimore.

During the last few months of 1998, two reporters on the staff of The Sun conducted an energetic inquiry into schoolbooks and the schoolbook industry. The reporters were Marego Athans and Gary Cohn, and their efforts culminated in a story that ran in The Sun on 31 January 1999, starting on page 1 and filling some 240 column-inches. "It's in the book, and it's wrong," the headline on the story declared, and immediately above the headline was a photograph of a portly, bearded man holding a copy of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science.

The man was Howard P. Lyon, of Erie, Pennsylvania, who for several years has been analyzing Prentice Hall's shoddy "science" books, cataloguing their defects, and investigating the claims that Prentice Hall has used in promoting those books to schools. Lyon began this work in 1994, after his daughter Miranda -- who then was a 7th-grade student in Erie's Millcreek Township School District -- drew his attention to some baffling material that she had encountered in the 1995 version of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science. Lyon has demonstrated that Prentice Hall has routinely recycled defective material (some of which originated in the 1980s) in book after book [note 2], and he has found many of Prentice Hall's promotional claims to be false.

Athans and Cohn's story revolved around Lyon's analyses of the 1995 Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, and it left no room for doubting that the book was junk. The two reporters described many of the flaming mistakes and absurdities that Lyon had found in Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, and they reproduced and refuted some of the book's erroneous illustrations. They also told that the Millcreek district -- with help from Lyon -- had developed, and had distributed to students, a 34-page document which listed some of the book's defects and presented "corrective measures." (Prentice Hall later helped the Millcreek district to pay the costs of producing the "corrective measures" register [note 3].)

Athans and Cohn were unable to present any comments by any representative of Prentice Hall, because Prentice Hall's officials had repeatedly refused to be interviewed. The reporters did, however, quote from a letter that had been sent to The Sun by Nancy J. Taylor, who represented Simon & Schuster (the company that had controlled Prentice Hall at the time when the 1995 Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science was produced). Here is an excerpt from Athans and Cohn's article:

As for "Exploring Physical Science," spokeswoman Taylor wrote: "Teachers all over the country have been very satisfied with its presentation of complex material for sixth through ninth grade students." She added that first editions of books go through a "fact checking review" and corrections are made in subsequent printings.

Taylor's first statement implied that the 1995 Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science was respectable because teachers liked it. That implication was nonsensical [note 4 and note 5]. Taylor's second statement implied that the 1995 book was a first edition. That implication was downright deceptive. Virtually all the material in the 1995 Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science was stuff that had been printed at least twice before, in books which Prentice Hall had published in 1993 and had republished in 1994.

Athans and Cohn amplified their story by quoting some other sources, too:

Dennis Iaquinta, a member of the board that governs the Millcreek district, announced that "My grade for [Prentice Hall] is an F, and they need summer school."

Arnold Strassenburg, a retired professor of physics, observed: "The authors of school science textbooks are seldom expert in science, [but] the publisher chooses to pretend that they are rather than to get experts to either write the books or edit books written by others."

And Anthea Maton, the woman whose name led the list of six "authors" displayed on the title page of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, said she had never heard of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science. "They weren't even nice enough to send me a copy of the book with my name on it," she remarked. "What a nerve."

A few months later, Maton would tell again -- on 20/20 -- that Prentice Hall had stuck her name onto a book that she had not written.

Donaldson's "Book Report"

In fashioning the "Book Report" segment that he presented on 20/20 in April 1999, Sam Donaldson adapted a lot of information from Athans and Cohn's newspaper article, but he also proffered material that he and his colleagues had developed on their own.

At the start of the segment, the camera showed Donaldson in a science classroom at the Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene, Oregon. While students opened their copies of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, Donaldson stated one of the themes of his report: "Every day, students pick up their textbooks expecting to learn, but what they find in the books isn't necessarily true."

Then the scene changed abruptly, and viewers saw Donaldson talking with Mel and Norma Gabler, two Texans who run an organization called Educational Research Analysts. For some thirty years, the Gablers have been criticizing the schoolbooks that publishers submit to the Texas State Board of Education for adoption. The Gablers are, in fact, ideologues of the extreme right, and the stated purpose of Educational Research Analysts is to "review public school textbooks from a conservative, Christian perspective." In practice, much of the organization's "reviewing" consists of identifying and condemning books that fail to support patriotism and nationalism, or that fail to comply with fundamentalist religious doctrines, or that encourage students to think analytically [note 6] -- but Educational Research Analysts also has done some legitimate, valuable work by exposing gross errors and distortions in certain textbooks that the publishers have peddled to the Texas Board. In one memorable instance, a representative of Educational Research Analysts derailed the Board's adoption of history textbooks when he showed that there were hundreds of erroneous statements and other defects in books that had already been approved by the Board's ignorant Selection Committee [note 7].

When they appeared on 20/20 with Donaldson, the Gablers put their ideological preoccupations aside, refrained from preaching, and recounted some horrors that they had seen, over the years, in history books. One book, they recalled, described the Soviet Union's Sputnik as an intercontinental ballistic missile, while another taught that Napoleon had won at Waterloo!

Then I showed up, chatting with Donaldson in San Francisco. I was on camera just long enough to ruffle through a copy of the 1995 Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, to report that Prentice Hall's book was full of ludicrous mistakes, and to inform Donaldson that these had been well documented by Howard Lyon.

And there he was! Lyon -- conversing with Donaldson in one of the Millcreek district's science classrooms -- described some of the absurdities that he had found in Prentice Hall's book (such as the claim that uranium was a man-made element, and the notion that aspirin was a polymer), and he showed Donaldson why an "experiment" presented in Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science was bogus and couldn't be performed.

Dennis Iaquinta made an appearance, and Donaldson asked him to read aloud from a new history book -- Holt, Rinehart and Winston's World History: Continuity and Change. Iaquinta recited, with some amusement, a passage in which Holt's writers said that Columbus had sought support from Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, and that Columbus had made his great voyage of discovery eight years later.

"That would mean," Donaldson noted, "that this book wants students to believe that Columbus set sail for America in 1500."

"Exactly," Iaquinta replied. "That's why I was chuckling."

Turning his attention back to Howard Lyon and Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, Donaldson told his audience about the "corrective measures" document: ". . . the [Millcreek] school district printed a 34-page booklet of corrections [for Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science], and Prentice Hall paid to copy it for Erie students." Then Donaldson wondered: "But what about the rest of the country?" Had Prentice Hall sent the booklet to all the other school districts that were using Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science?

Evidently not. Donaldson returned to the science classroom at the Roosevelt school in Oregon, where students were using Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, and he talked with their teacher, Dana Mafit. He showed Mafit a copy of the Millcreek district's booklet, and he asked her: "Did you get one of these?"

"Not at all -- no," Mafit replied, and she added: "If you were able to find out that I had ordered this book, they [Prentice Hall] should know that too."

Deliberate Deception?

After a long break for commercials, Donaldson continued his "Book Report" by introducing a new topic: Do textbook-writers deliberately strive to deceive students and indoctrinate them with concepts that "are just plain wrong, about history, culture, and the world around them"?

I appeared on camera again, calling attention to some of the "cultural woo-woo" in Holt, Rinehart and Winston's Holt Health. I called Holt's book "a clear and present danger to students' health," and I noted that it uses double-talk and false implications to promote "ginseng and magic-garlic cures and Navajo mystery chants."

Then Norma Gabler told about an American-history book that barely mentions George Washington but gives more than six pages to Marilyn Monroe.

Donaldson interviewed Patricia S. Schroeder, the president of the Association of American Publishers (who acknowledged that schoolbook companies shape their books to please pressure groups in "the electorate"), and then he brought me back again:

DONALDSON: [H]ow is it that a best-selling textbook can be riddled with errors? William Bennetta says it begins with the names on the title page.

BENNETTA: These are what we call "phantom authors." This is one important dimension of the fraud that pervades the schoolbook business.

DONALDSON (to audience): According to Bennetta, the people listed on textbooks, as the authors, sometimes have had little or nothing to do with actually writing the book.

DONALDSON (to Bennetta): You're telling me that publishers knowingly put names on their textbooks and know that these people didn't write them?

BENNETTA: I see I've made myself clear. That's exactly right.

"It was an accusation we found hard to believe," Donaldson told his audience, "so we investigated, beginning with that textbook being used in Eugene, Oregon -- Exploring Physical Science." Then Donaldson interviewed Anthea Maton:

DONALDSON: Tell me about writing this book.

MATON: I've never seen the book before. Really, this is the first time I've ever seen it.

DONALDSON: But your name is the lead name -- is the lead author of the book.

MATON: So I've been told. Fascinating!

"Maton says she's never written an actual textbook for Prentice Hall," Donaldson explained. "About eight years ago she did consulting work and provided ancillary materials for an earlier series of science texts. . . . [note 8] One of the other authors said they also had never seen this book and had nothing to do with writing it. The remaining four ["authors" of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science] didn't return our phone calls."

(Several of my colleagues later told me that they regarded this as the most powerful part of Donaldson's report because it made clear that Prentice Hall has abused Anthea Maton, has abused her name, and has engaged in undeniable misrepresentation and deception. Yes indeed, but I was somewhat disappointed by Donaldson's failure to elucidate why Prentice Hall has misused Maton's name. What Prentice Hall has sought to exploit -- as a device for enhancing the appeal of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science -- is not Maton's name, as such, but her former affiliation with the National Science Teachers Association. See "Count 'em: Four Hundred and Six!" on page 10 of this issue.)

Unasked Questions

The "Book Report" was followed by a short exchange between Donaldson and another member of the 20/20 staff, Hugh Downs. During that exchange, Donaldson referred to a letter that 20/20 had received from Peter Jovanovich:

DOWNS: Sam, this is one of the most appalling reports I've ever seen. What are the publishers saying about this?

DONALDSON: Hugh, Pearson Education's CEO wrote to us and admitted there were factual mistakes in Exploring Physical Science. He said the company is breaking with the industry practice of waiting for later editions to correct the errors. It [Pearson] will soon become the first publisher to use the Internet to post corrections.

That was too bad. By glibly repeating Jovanovich's claim about an "industry practice" of correcting errors, Donaldson had made a mistake and had misled his audience. Jovanovich's claim was bogus -- no such "industry practice" exists. Rather than striving to "correct the errors," schoolbook companies typically recycle and reprint erroneous material again and again, in successive versions of their books, even after it has been shown to be wrong. Pearson Education's own products -- such as World Cultures [note 9] and Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science [note 10] -- are full of such material.

Donaldson had made another mistake when he reflexively and uncritically repeated Jovanovich's statement about the Open Book Publishing scheme -- i.e., the statement that Pearson would "soon become the first publisher to use the Internet to post corrections." Donaldson should have raised some questions, or he should have ignored Jovanovich's assertion entirely. Here are some questions that Donaldson could have raised:

  • Did Jovanovich really believe that using the Internet to "post corrections" was a remedy for the sale of a grossly botched product? If Jovanovich bought an item from a merchant and then found that the item had scores of defects, what would Jovanovich do? Would he ask for his money back? Would he require the merchant to replace the defective item with one that had been conceived and produced competently? Or would he meekly accept a batch of fix-it-yourself notes posted on the Internet?

  • Just how would school districts and teachers make use of corrections posted on the Internet? What would happen after the corrections were posted? If Pearson Education posted 70 corrections for a science book, and if a school district owned 100 copies of the book in question -- what then? Were the district's science teachers supposed to equip themselves with colored pens and then transcribe each of the 70 corrections into each of the 100 copies?

Jovanovich's "Response"

On 2 April -- the day when the 20/20 "Book Report" was broadcast -- Pearson Education added some new pages to its Web site. These pages included "A Word from Peter Jovanovich on Pearson Education's 'Open Book' Initiative" and "Response from Peter Jovanovich to the 20/20 Segment of April 2, 1999."

The "Word from Peter Jovanovich" was just a gush of slogans: ". . . . Pearson Education is committed to the pursuit of quality and accuracy in all our materials. . . . Open Book Initiative . . . achieving 100% factual accuracy in all our elementary and secondary school textbooks. . . . very high quality assurance standards; . . . ."

The "Response from Peter Jovanovich to the 20/20 Segment" was more interesting, if only because it was so deceptive and so obviously aimed at generating confusion and false impressions.

"The [20/20] segment," Peter Jovanovich said, "focused particularly on errors in earlier [note 11] editions [note 12] of the Prentice Hall School Division's textbooks,[sic] Exploring Physical Science. . . . Earlier this year, a team of people at Pearson Education and I looked carefully at the history of this particular textbook. There were factual mistakes in the textbook, and I greatly regret that it took the Prentice Hall School Division longer than it should have to fix them."

Rubbish! Jovanovich's implication -- i.e., that all the "factual mistakes" in Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science had been fixed -- was false. The errors hadn't been fixed then, and they haven't been fixed now. The current version of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, like all the earlier versions, is loaded with erroneous material and absurd guesswork [note 13].

Later in his "Response," Jovanovich tried to discredit Anthea Maton and to becloud the fact that Prentice Hall (by claiming that Maton was the principal author of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science) had engaged in fraud:

"Authors contribute to program and textbook development in many ways," Jovanovich wrote. "The level of participation varies from edition to edition, owing to the involvement of new authors. Often the authors who had been involved with earlier editions then take on a lesser role."

Jovanovich clearly was trying to project the impression that Anthea Maton really was an author of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, albeit an author whose "role" had varied "from edition to edition." Jovanovich evidently didn't recognize that he was discrediting Prentice Hall's own claims. Prentice Hall has never ascribed to Maton any "role" but the role of principal author. Prentice Hall has continually and consistently billed Maton as the principal author of every version of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science that has ever been produced, with no suggestion of any change in her "level of participation." Even if we were to accept Jovanovich's intimations, we would have to conclude that Prentice Hall has lied.

Jovanovich then said that "Each of the six authors named on the spine of Exploring Physical Science created materials for Prentice Hall Science, [note 14] the multi-volume predecessor program to the series that includes Exploring Physical Science."

So again, Jovanovich tried to muddle an issue. There was no question about the fact that Anthea Maton had contributed to a "predecessor program": Sam Donaldson, in his "Book Report," had clearly stated that Maton had once worked on "an earlier series of science texts" for Prentice Hall. The question at hand was: Had Prentice Hall used Anthea Maton's name deceptively, and without her knowledge, to enhance the salability of a book that she had never even seen? The answer was yes.

The most amusing passage in Jovanovich's "Response," I thought, was this one:

Pearson Education must strive to achieve 100% factual accuracy in every one of our school textbooks and programs. In order to achieve this goal, we have developed the "Open Book" Initiative, which includes plans to conduct a thorough review of all of our elementary and secondary school textbooks. Beginning this fall, we will post all corrections or clarifications on our Internet site. This process is already underway, and corrections and clarifications for Exploring Physical Science will be available on the Internet before the end of April.


If the posting of corrections was supposed to begin in the fall of 1999, how could corrections for Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science appear on the Internet "before the end of April"? Jovanovich's contradictory statements reminded me of the contradictory claims that I'd seen in Pearson Education's "Open Book Publishing Policy Statement" and press release. I inferred that Jovanovich and his functionaries, when they invented their claims about the Open Book Publishing program, had worked in great haste and hadn't had time to get their stories straight.

In any case, Pearson Education did indeed post on its Web site, in April, an anonymous display of corrections for the 1995 version of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science. For the student's edition, there were twenty-four "Corrections of factual errors," then seven "Corrections of typographical or grammatical errors" and thirty-eight "Corrections for clarification." For the teacher's edition, there were three "Corrections of factual errors" and three "Corrections for clarification."

The display was schlock. Pearson's anonymous corrector had addressed only a small fraction of the inaccuracies that actually existed in Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, and he often had dealt with minor matters while ignoring outrageous howlers. Moreover, I noticed, he had disguised some of the book's outright errors as items that merely needed "Corrections for clarification." His objective, evidently, had been to concoct a nominal list of corrections without acknowledging how bad Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science really was, or how many errors it really contained.

I noticed, too, that some of his "corrections" were wrong.

The Director Arrives

In the months that followed, I kept my eye on the Open Book Publishing show because I wanted to see how far Pearson Education would go with it. Was Pearson really going to subject all of its existing products to a "comprehensive review and audit," as promised in the press release and the policy statement that Pearson had issued in March? Was Pearson really going to hire a "director of standards and quality"? Was Pearson really going to get a "panel of prestigious authors and content experts" to review its books and formulate corrections? I was especially interested in the panel. Besides being "prestigious," I figured, those authors and experts would have to be tough. The task of reviewing and correcting Pearson's existing books -- never mind any new ones -- would make the cleaning of King Augeus's stables look like child's play.

On 4 May 1999, I telephoned Pearson Education's corporate-communications officer, Maggie Aloia Rohr, and asked her whether Pearson had found a director of standards. Not yet, Rohr said.

On 9 July 1999, Rohr issued a press release to announce that the director of standards had been hired. Her name was Wendy K. Spiegel, and Pearson Education had awarded her a vice-presidency: Her title was "Vice President, Quality and Standards." According to the press release, she had worked in the publishing industry for nearly 30 years:

Most recently, Spiegel served as Vice President, Marketing, at Simon & Schuster. Previously, Spiegel held a succession of key positions in McGraw-Hill's secondary and higher education divisions. Spiegel's experience spans marketing, editorial, sales, advertising, product management, and product development.

On 20 July 1999, I spoke by telephone with Spiegel and with William F. Oldsey, Pearson Education's senior vice-president for planning and market development. In response to one of my questions, Oldsey and Spiegel told me that the "comprehensive review and audit" wouldn't really cover all of Pearson Education's existing textbooks and ancillary materials. It would be limited to the most popular products: the ones that were "most widely used" and had been "most widely distributed." By the end of 1999, Oldsey stated, Pearson would finish determining which products, by dint of their popularity, deserved to be reviewed first. But even before the end of the year, he said, corrections for some books would be posted on Pearson's Web site.

Rigged Lists

On 13 October 1999, Pearson posted displays of corrections for forty Prentice Hall books. The books included the 1997 and 1999 versions of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, the 1993 and 1994 and 1997 versions of several titles in the Prentice Hall Science series, and the 2000 version of every title in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer series [note 15]. I viewed some of the new displays, later in October, and I found that they resembled the one that Pearson had posted in April for the 1995 Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science -- they were anonymous, superficial, incomplete and misleading. Pearson's nameless corrector continued to ignore major mistakes and misconceptions, and he continued to disguise blatant errors as things that merely needed "clarification." Some of his feats of ignoring were marvelous to behold. For example: His display pertaining to the 1993 version of Electricity and Magnetism (a volume in the Prentice Hall Science series) provided corrections for only four "factual errors," even though the number of botched facts in Electricity and Magnetism runs into the dozens [note 16].

On or about 24 November 1999, Pearson produced displays of corrections for several titles in history and social studies. I took a look at the display that dealt with the 2000 version of the Prentice Hall book America: Pathways to the Present, and I saw that it was another exercise in selective omission: The anonymous corrector ignored major inaccuracies, falsehoods and distortions that I'd seen during my own reading of Pathways, and he ignored major inaccuracies, falsehoods and distortions that John Fonte had seen when Fonte reviewed Pathways for TTL [note 17]. As examples: The corrector said nothing about the paragraphs in which the writers of Pathways taught students that Europeans had invented the West African slave trade and that the "slave-raiders" who operated in West Africa were Europeans!

From these observations, I infer that Pearson Education has turned the Open Book Initiative into a mechanism for spreading whitewash. Pearson posts lists of corrections for its books, but the lists have been rigged to omit many of the books' defects, to conceal many of their worst derangements, to disguise outright errors as mere lapses in clarity, and to make the books seem much less incompetent than they truly are. I don't know who devises the rigged lists, but I doubt that it is any "panel of prestigious authors and content experts."

On 11 January 2000, I called Wendy K. Spiegel and asked her specifically about the prestigious panel. She told me that the panel had been assembled, some months before, and was carrying out its duties of overseeing and reviewing. I was eager to learn about the panel's members, and to admire their prestige, so I asked Spiegel to tell me who they were.

Spiegel refused. She would not identify the members of the prestigious panel, she said to me, "because they don't want to be contacted -- we're protecting their privacy."

I was tempted to point out that hiding wasn't going to do much for their prestige, but I restrained myself.

The prestigious panel, I inferred, was a fiction.


  1. See "Another Acquisition" in TTL, March-April 1996, and "Pearson's New Schoolbook Enterprise" in TTL, November-December 1998. [return to text]

  2. See, for example, Lyon's article "Fun in the Tub" in TTL for July-August 1998. [return to text]

  3. See " 'Corrective Measures' " in TTL for March-April 1996; and "New Books for Old" in TTL for May-June 1996. [return to text]

  4. As I've noted before in these pages, Prentice Hall routinely preys on the dumbest teachers in the land. Such teachers routinely are very satisfied with books that are trash. [return to text]

  5. For a review of the 1995 Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, see "Educators Should Avoid This Book Like the Plague" in TTL for September-October 1995. [return to text]

  6. See my essay "Looking Backward" in Crusade of the Credulous, a collection of articles issued in 1986 by the California Academy of Sciences Press. [return to text]

  7. See "Deep in the Heart of Folly" in TTL, May-June 1992. [return to text]

  8. This was a reference to the nineteen-volume Prentice Hall Science series, which includes some of the worst middle-school "science" books I've ever encountered. All nineteen of the books were introduced during California's adoption of instructional materials in 1992. Prentice Hall has promoted them in California by claiming that they incorporate all the requirements of the California State Board of Education's Science Framework, but that claim is demonstrably false. [return to text]

  9. See the review "Same Junk, Different Peddlers" in TTL, September-October 1999. [return to text]

  10. See "This Prentice Hall Book Fails on Each and Every Count" in the present issue of TTL. [return to text]

  11. Earlier than what? Jovanovich didn't say. [return to text]

  12. The 20/20 "Book Report" hadn't examined multiple "editions" of anything, and it had dealt with only one incarnation of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science -- the student's edition of the 1995 version. [return to text]

  13. See "This Prentice Hall Book Fails on Each and Every Count" in the present issue of TTL. [return to text]

  14. See note 8, above. Seven of the Prentice Hall Science books have been reviewed in TTL, and the reviews are available on The League's Web site at http://www.textbookleague.org/51prensci.htm [return to text]

  15. The Prentice Hall Science Explorer series comprises fifteen titles. It is the successor to the Prentice Hall Science series. [return to text]

  16. See "This Book Is an Insult" in TTL, November-December 1993. [return to text]

  17. Fonte's review, in TTL for March-April 1999, was headlined "This Prentice Hall 'History' Text Is Essentially a Propaganda Tract." [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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