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Re: Review of Middle School Physical Science Texts (part 2)

I don't think this problem is confined to science, or to middle
school. A book by James W. Loewen called Lies My Teacher Told Me
discusses problems with high school history books. Evolution is
missing or downplayed in many biology textbooks, and in Alabama,
biology books have to carry a disclaimer saying that
evolution is "just a theory," and can't be proved because
"nobody was there to see it happen." I wrote a fascinating ;-)
article on why textbooks are so bad:
In 25 words or less, I think it has to do with perverse
economic incentives.

IMHO, the vicious cycle of bad K-12 science education can't be
broken simply by creating new curricula for preservice teachers,
or working with your school board (although those things couldn't
hurt). I think the U.S. needs to:

1. Increase K-12 teachers' pay by about 50%.

2. Stop expecting K-6 teachers to be generalists. Have
different teachers for humanities and math/science.
This would instantly change the supply-to-demand
ratio of qualified teachers by a factor of 2.

The best texts in the world won't help until measures like
these are taken to get competent teachers in the classroom.
Conversely, competent teachers wouldn't put up with substandard

I think your two items that need to be done are both important and
necessary, but not all that has to be done. Getting better qualified
teachers into the classrooms is crucial, and they are by definition
better equipped to deal with bad textbooks, but that alone won't do
anything to make it worthwhile for publishers to do an adequate job
of making their texts useable until the state selection committees
start requiring that the publishers put together textbooks that do
what they say they do. This is going to require getting scientists
(and specialists in other fields as well) more involved in the
selection process, and cracking down on the rampant bribery that goes
on between the publishers and the selection committees. The
publishers may not be paying the committee members bribes in cash,
but they certainly spend a lot of effort to entertain them, offer
them prepaid trips to "conferences" at which textbook publishing is
supposedly the topic, and other little things that are designed to
make the committee members feel warm and glowy about the publishers.
And they are not above "planting" people who will give their books a
good review in key places where they can influence the committees.
Apparently all of these things are cheaper than taking the trouble to
make the books right in the first place, or at least the publishers
think they are, or that they are more important, since, without these
bribes they may not get their book selected no matter how good it is.
In this sort of climate, they will spend the money to get the book
selected, and too hell with the content.

But if the teachers can rise up en masse and condemn the books they
get, and get the populace riled up enough about the process, perhaps
something can be done. But unless the teachers are qualified enough
to recognize when a book is bad, it won't happen, and that is where
your suggestions will make a difference.


Hugh Haskell

(919) 467-7610

Let's face it. People use a Mac because they want to, Windows because they
have to..