Texas Board Delays Decision on Error-Filled History Texts
The Texas Board of Education voted earlier this month to delay approving new U.S. history textbooks for schoolchildren after citizens pointed out that the books contained more than 230 factual errors.
"We wonder why our children make mistakes in history and geography when part of the reason might be that they get textbooks full of errors,'' said Will Davis, a veteran school-board member. "/was incensed.''
More than half the errors were incorrect dates.
School-board members said they were alarmed, however, at the number of other errors they characterized as "stupid?'
A teacher's edition of one book, for example, states that Sputnik was "the first successful, intercontinental ballistic missile launched by the Soviet Union." Another suggests that the United States settled the Korean War by using the atomic bomb.
"These mistakes didn't just happen by gremlins," Mr. Davis said. "Somebody wrote them down."
One history book indicates that American troops, rather than Cuban exiles, led the Bay of Pigs invasion. According to another, the United States invaded Guatemala in 1954, when, in fact, it never did.
"It's obvious their proofreaders don't know history," said Mel Gabler, a conservative textbook critic from east Texas.
Best known for their battles with state school officials over the treatment of evolution in science textbooks, Mr. Gabler and his wife, Norma, brought the errors to the attention of state school- board members earlier this month. Neal Frey, a professor of history and economics hired by the couple to review the books, had compiled the list of errors.
By that time, a statewide textbook advisory committee charged with determining whether the books' content meets state education standards had reviewed the textbooks.
The committee had also found some mistakes and directed the publishers to correct them, said Joey Lozano, a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency. It recommended adopting the books.
Representatives of several of the five publishers whose books were singled out expressed regret last week over the mistakes.
"It's very embarrassing to us that these errors remain in the first printings," said Barbara Flynn, the editorial vice president for Scott, Foresman & Company. The error about the Korean War was made in a Scott, Foresman book. Ms. Flynn said the mistake, included in a teacher's edition, was made in a hypothetical answer to the question, "Was Truman's description of the Korean conflict as a 'police action' a false image or an accurate image?"
The answer read: "It was accurate because the United States easily settled the conflict by using the bomb." Ms. Flynn said the sentence mistakenly omitted the words "could have."
"Anybody who thinks we're not deadly serious about trying to bring to market a perfect book doesn't understand the economics involved," said Joe Bill Watkins, a lawyer representing the American Association of Publishers.
Textbook adoptions in Texas are particularly important because the state is the third-largest purchaser of textbooks, after California and New York. The state had planned to buy about $20 million in history textbooks for use in schools beginning next fall.
In many cases, textbooks approved in Texas are adopted in many other states as well.
And, once approved, the textbooks are typically in use at least six years. As a result of the controversy over the errors, Texas' education commissioner, Lionel (Skip) Meno, has recommended that publishers be required to hire an independent editor to review their textbooks before they are presented for adoption. He has also suggested that the publishers be fined for every error found in their books.
Both actions would require that state regulations be revised.
At its Nov. 9 meeting, the state school board unanimously agreed to direct publishers to ensure that the books are free of errors. The board will consider adoption of the history texts at its Jan. 11 meeting.
"This whole process is going to make the whole industry go through history books one more time with a fine-toothed comb," Ms. Flynn said.