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A Tragedy Of Errors

If on a test, a student described Sputnik as "the first successful intercontinental ballistic missile launched by the Soviet Union,'' the teacher would undoubtedly send the pupil back to the textbook for the right answer.

Unfortunately, the textbook may not be much help. In fact, if it was one of the new texts recently up for adoption in Texas, it may have been the source of the problem. That factual error was just one of 230 found in new U.S. history textbooks that the Texas Board of Education was considering.

Although more than half the errors were incorrect dates, school board members were alarmed at a number of other errors they characterized as "stupid.'' One history book indicates that American troops rather than Cuban exiles led the Bay of Pigs invasion. Another states that the United States invaded Guatemala in 1954, when, in fact, it never did. And yet another notes that the United States "easily settled the [Korean War] conflict by using the bomb.''

Says William Davis, a state school board member, "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.''

Texas, the third largest purchaser of textbooks, had planned to spend $20 million on history texts that are typically used for at least six years. In many cases, textbooks approved in Texas are adopted in many other states as well.

After citizens pointed out the errors in November, the board decided to delay the books' approval; it will reconsider them at a meeting this month. Example Of Errors Q: What was Sputnik?; A: The first successful intercontinental ballistic missile launched by the Soviet Union; carried a nuclear warhead. From American Odyssey (Glencoe, 1992) Q: Was Truman's description of the Korean conflict as a "police action'' a false image or an accurate image? A: It was accurate because the Unites States easily settled the conflict by using the bomb. From American Voices, vol. 2 (Scott, 1992)"The Nixon presidency began in triumph and ended in disgrace. The events of those years--the end of the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of King and Kennedy . .' From American Odyssey (Glencoe, 1992)

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