from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1995

Reviewing a high-school book in social studies

World Cultures: A Global Mosaic
1996. 828 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-13-831801-8.
Prentice Hall, 113 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 07632.

Like the 1993 Version,
This Book Is Worthless

William J. Bennetta

In all major respects, the 1996 version of World Cultures is interchangeable with the 1993 version. As far as essential content and structure are concerned, the two books are the same, right down to their chapter titles and their pagination. Where the 1996 book shows changes, the changes are generally small and skimpy. Most of them involve nothing more than the revision of a caption or the rewording of a line or two of text.

The 1993 version of World Cultures was the subject of three reviews published in TTL for March-April 1994 -- one review written by James Giese, one by Charles Paul, one by me. All three said World Cultures had little or nothing to do with the study of cultures.

Giese observed that the book seemed to be a mass of material that had been produced for other purposes, and he inferred that much of this material had been thrown into World Cultures as filler. World Cultures lacked any coherent idea of what the word culture meant, he said, and it could not help students to learn about cultures or cultural affairs.

Paul said that Prentice Hall's writers evidently didn't know what cultures were, and he rejected the writers' efforts to equate cultures with nation-states. He also deplored the book's incoherence, superficiality, errors of fact, and misconceived perspectives.

In my own review, I asserted that the book failed to give an account of any culture anywhere, that much of its text consisted of meaningless factoids, that it was pervaded by overt racism, and that the writers' chief skills seemed to lie in the realms of pandering and sloganeering. World Cultures, I said, was a fake.

My reading of the 1996 version hasn't given me any reason to alter that judgment.

As a part of my appraisal of the 1996 book, I randomly chose 77 of its text pages (starting with page 3 and ending with page 772), and I compared each of these with the same-numbered page in the 1993 version. Here are the chief observations which have emerged from that sampling:

Treacle and Whitewash

Besides conducting a formal sampling of pages, I've looked through the 1996 book to see if it displays any changes in fundamental content or organization. It does not.

World Cultures is still a chaotic collection of bits and pieces, most of which seem to have been taken from old world-history books. It still fails to show any awareness of cultural anthropology, still fails to show any comprehension of what cultures are, and (as far as I can see) still fails to give any account of any culture anywhere.

Many false or absurd items are still in place (even the utterly nonsensical section about "Stone Age People") and the book, as a whole, is still pervaded by racism and by racial, ethnic and ideological pandering: It continues to treat various groups of people with contempt while it coats other groups with thick layers of treacle and whitewash. For example, Prentice Hall's "history" of Japanese policies and actions in the 1930s and during World War 2 is just obscurantist molasses. No student who reads it will understand why 50-year-old memories of Japanese conquests, Japanese war crimes, and Japan's hideous treatment of subjugated peoples are still affecting Japan's relations with other nations.

I would characterize World Cultures as a physical embodiment of the notion that social-studies teachers are awfully dumb -- so dumb that they will purchase any book that has pretty covers and has "cultures" or "cultural" in its title.

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 frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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