This article appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, Volume 12, Number 4.

The Quota-Queens and the Empress

William J. Bennetta

About 30 years ago, a team of writers and editors working for Holt, Rinehart and Winston undertook to revise that company's series of schoolbooks -- called "readers" -- that were intended for use in teaching young students how to read. The Holt readers had been fiercely denounced by radical feminists and other ideological vigilantes during schoolbook-adoption proceedings in Texas, and the Holt team had to produce new versions that would survive scrutiny by even the most extreme cranks.

Some of the feats that Holt's functionaries accomplished during their revision effort have been described in the book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, [see note 1, below] by the historian Diane Ravitch:

Stories were freely rewritten to change a character's job or role or ethnicity, even their gender. The editors changed the gender of the main character in Judy Blume's story "Freddie in the Middle," which became "Maggie in the Middle," . . . . In another story, a grandmother was added to increase the count of elderly persons in the book. Some stories were added even though Weiss [Bernard J. Weiss, the editor of the series] thought they were of poor quality, in order to boost the number of female characters. After extensive revisions, an editor reported numerical success for one volume in the series: "The in-house count shows 146 female and 146 male characters, or a ratio of 1:1. Animal characters were not included in this count."

Animal characters hadn't been counted, apparently, because Holt's editors hadn't yet recognized how much buffoonery they actually would have to perform to placate rad-fem quota-queens. Ravitch tells us what happened when Holt's revised series was submitted for adoption in Texas:

In 1980, the education task force of Texas NOW [the Texas division of the National Organization for Women] battered the readers yet again at state textbook hearings. Holt's editors thought they had achieved a perfect 1:1 balance of male and female characters, but the Texas feminists said that when they added in animals, males actually outnumbered females by 2:1. A feminist critic pointed out "Children of this age are influenced by a story about Mr. Rabbit just as much as they are by a story about Mr. Jones."

The events that Ravitch has recounted may have been remarkable at the time when they occurred, but they don't seem remarkable today. Today we know that all the big schoolbook companies routinely rig their books to promote rad-fem fantasies and to comply with the rad-fem vigilantes' demand that schoolbooks must give at least as much space and attention to females as they give to males. We know that the companies have been doing this for decades. And we know that their efforts have corrupted their "readers," their literature anthologies, their social-studies books, their history books, and even their science books. Here are a few cases, cited in earlier issues of The Textbook Letter, that illustrate how women have been puffed and glorified in science textbooks while men have been obscured or obliterated:

Now Holt has staged a stunt that we haven't seen before: In the 2001 version of Holt Science & Technology: Life Science, Holt attributes a biological discovery to a woman who is imaginary.

Unit 1 of Holt Science & Technology: Life Science begins with a time-line that purportedly commemorates, in tiny write-ups, "a few of the many people who have studied living things through the centuries," and the first of the tiny write-ups says:

2640 B.C.

Si Ling-Chi, Empress of China, observes silkworms in her garden and develops a process to cultivate them and make silk.

That is fantasy. Virtually nothing is known about the origins of sericulture (silkworm husbandry) or of techniques for producing silk, and Si Ling-Chi is a figure from myth, not from history. She appears in old Chinese tales as a wife of the legendary Yellow Emperor; she discovers that a silkworm cocoon, after it has fallen into hot tea, can be unwound to yield a single long fiber; and she invents the loom [note 2].

The Yellow Emperor is one of China's great mythical heroes, and Chinese stories depict him as a beneficent innovator who teaches the Chinese people how to make vessels, how to make vehicles, how to write, how to calculate, and so on. He also performs preternatural deeds, such as the mining of bronze [note 3]. His time on Earth ends when he and some of his officials are carried away, into the sky, by a dragon.

By ascribing the invention of sericulture and the invention of silk to a woman who is fictitious, Holt has established a significant precedent. I anticipate that other corrupt publishers will follow Holt's lead, as they strive to please the quota-queens, and that we soon shall see schoolbooks celebrating the scientific achievements of Wonder Woman, Big Nurse, Helen of Troy, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Cio-Cio-San and Batgirl.


  1. See the review of The Language Police in this issue of TTL. [return to text]

  2. The loom and the art of weaving were invented in the West, not in China. See "More Hokum from Hakim" in TTL, Vol. 11, No. 3. [return to text]

  3. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, doesn't occur in nature. [return to text]

To learn more about Holt Science & Technology: Life Science, see the article "An Informative Visit to a Very Helpful Web Site" in this issue of TTL.

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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