This article appeared in the "Editor's File"
in The Textbook Letter, March-April 1996.

"Corrective Measures"

William J. Bennetta

Prentice Hall has conveyed $2,050 to the Millcreek Township School District (in Erie, Pennsylvania) to offset some costs that the district incurred in issuing a partial list of the errors in Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, a middle-school book dated in 1995.

The Millcreek district had bought nearly 600 copies of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science in 1994, and the district's science teachers had soon recognized that the book was seriously defective. The district undertook to publish a list of some of the book's faults (and pertinent "corrective measures") with help from Howard P. Lyon, a local parent whose daughter had found the book incomprehensible. Lyon has tabulated some 200 errors and other defects in Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, and he has shown that some of them represent wrong material that Prentice Hall has been using and reusing, in various books, since the 1980s.

The district's list was published in September 1995, and the district provided copies of it to all the students who would be using Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science in the 1995-1996 school year. The district also mailed letters to all the students' parents, explaining why the document had been issued. For the most part, the document deals with factual errors, ambiguities, botched illustrations, pedagogical mistakes, and errors of grammar and syntax. Generally, it does not address deep conceptual errors or Prentice Hall's excursions into fake "history."

Howard P. Lyon has brought this affair to the attention of some Pennsylvania newspapers and television stations, several of which have found it newsworthy. One notable report, written by Dana Massing, ran in the Erie Daily Times on 10 April. It included an account of how three employees of the Times were defeated in their efforts to perform an "activity" prescribed in Prentice Hall's book -- an activity that called for attaching a pin to a tuning fork, tapping the fork to make it vibrate, and letting the pin trace a wave on a sheet of carbon paper. Massing told her readers that the procedure didn't work, and she described what had happened when the Times staffers tried to carry it out.

For a review of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science (with some comments about the tuning-fork "activity") see The Textbook Letter, September-October 1995.

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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