Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Student’s Attack on Course Textbook Is Taken Seriously

A student who voiced concern about political biases reflected in a highly popular American history textbook has been taken seriously. Senior, Matthew LaClair, of Kearney, New Jersey, noted several incorrect statements in his AP government textbook, US Government, among them statements on separation of church and state and global warming. He brought his concerns to the Center for Inquiry, and the textbook publisher, Houghton Mifflin, has since agreed to review the well-used textbook for inaccuracies.

The concerns that LaClair raised about erroneous information about global warming have been taken up by NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science, James Hansen, who is helping LaClair in his appeal to have the publisher make amends for the errors. The concern centers on how the book downplays global warming and indicates scientists really do not know the extent of global warming and whether we are really experiencing this phenomenon. In short, the textbook, widely used in high schools and colleges, simplifies aspects of civics and science, yet it is widely available to our students, and it has taken a high school senior to call attention to errors that appear to have gone largely unnoticed or ignored by others.

Visit this link from MSNBC to learn more about this story and post your comments:


Lisa T. said...

It's about time that people start to question authority, besides teenagers, that is! I think sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that it is easier for us to live life on cruise control allowing others to spoon feed us information. I'm glad someone is voicing their concerns loud enough so that people are actually listening. Government has downplayed the issue of global warming for too long. I remember learning so many aspects of history that were actually fictionalized versions. Don't even get me started about Christopher Columbus!!

Debbie said...

There is no perfect textbook. Compressing even two hundred years of US history into a few hundred pages will result in gross misrepresentations of history. On the issue of Christopher Columbus brought up by Lisa T. - many textbooks today cast him as a horrible villain bent on destroying an entire race of people - this perspective is just as biased as one that says he was the hero who discovered America.

A creative way to expose textbook myths is to have a dozen different textbooks being read in one classroom and having students compare and contrast how they represent subjects like government and history.

Sharon Kirby said...

I really think that textbook companies have a monapoly over our education. I have found that many textbook have some biases within the text. It drives me insane! I was watching Jericho...I don't know if anyone is a fan, but I love that show because it show a reality that could happen..anyway. On the show, they created a textbook for history where many components of what made the United States was not covered and created it's own history. Anyone that reads international news knows that the truth is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunantly I wish this was not the case, but I'm sure people in the South teach the civil war differently than people in the north.

mary beth said...

Bravo to the student who brought this to the attention of adults, and to the adults who took him seriously and brought it to the publisher. This is critical thinking and learning in the ideal form. I would give this student an A. That being said, I know how difficult it is to remain unbiased at all times as a parent, or as a teacher. Sometimes it is easier to explain your bias so that students know that you have one, and allow them to share their own bias also, and to understand that they are also biased. But textbooks should be held to a different standard and really should make every effort to show both sides of a bias.

Alicia H said...

I think this is GREAT!! Good for this kid--he is just proving that his education is working. He's being analytical and debated what he saw and was savvy enough to speak up and say this is not right! Talk about Bloom's in action. It is sad that wrong statements were published and I find it comical that the publishing house now is scrambling aroung to produce the right version of this textbook. I am just amazed because textbooks always seem to have an extensive author list (right in the front section of the book) of PhD'd scholars from a variety of universities, which would make one think they have done their research. And here a high school student from NJ catches multiple mistakes. Ironic.
Sharon, my husband and I are/were (since it has gone off the air) HUGE Jericho fans! I told my content area Prof about the show and the scary reality that something like that could happen! Wake up one day and the flag is different, the country name is different, government is differnet and the textbook tells you want the new 'government' wants you to know. So I applaud this student and hope to see him making more positive changes in the future!

Sherri said...

It was not until college that I really understood that there is no such thing as a true primary source. I majored in English and spent great deal of time disecting texts. What an extraordinary lesson this student learned at an early age. In my opinion, critical thinking is skill that is not taught enough in schools. I agree with Debbie, a great way to address this issue is to make a variety of textbooks available to students.

Sherree said...

From a teacher's point of view, this is a perfect example of the need to include not only other textbooks in the class, but a multitude of trades books and other sources of information. As previously stated, there is ALWAYS going to be bias by the authors. (The "scientists" that say that global warming is not a concern or caused by humans have LOTS of money in the oil industry. They know its damaging effects as well as the fact that it will run out very soon, but money is the root of all evil.) Being a science teacher, I struggle with the fact that textbooks do not list scientific discoveries/advancements made by women and minorities, a bias that has existed in the science world forever. I want to promote the science achievements by others to inspire all of my students. In order to achieve this, I have to utilize other tools or create them myself. I encourage all teachers to do the same in their content area and classes.

Colleen M. said...

Kudos to the high school senior that brought it upon himself to dispel some falsehoods in his class's textbook. This teacher must have maintained a great sense of pride after this student brought attention to some truly skewed opinions and facts. Teaching a student who is so engaged in the content/text/subject that he actually took his thoughts to a new level should be the goal of every teacher (especially the Constructivist one).
This story reminds me of some of our beginning teacher's courses at SJC. Many students (myself included) were worried that we would be confronted with a question or topic that we would not be familiar with. How can we be teachers if we do not know it all? This is an excellent example of taking material that we may not know so much about (or we are learning in the incorrect way) and discovering real meaning together. This is as Mary Beth said in an April post, critical thinking at its very best.
Note: Perhaps printing this article and using it as a way to introduce topics, chapters, and texts would be a great idea. Although we do not want to teach "skeptics" it may make all of our students look at everything they read in a critical manner.

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