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Flat-Earth Textbooks

from the magazine

Flat-Earth Textbooks

Middle schools are using science textbooks riddled with errors. Spring 2001
Education
Economy, finance, and budgets

A new study financed by the Packard Foundation shows that 12 of the most commonly used middle-school textbooks in the physical sciences—an estimated 85 percent of middle-school students use at least one of them—are pockmarked with mistakes. None of the dozen, the study found, met a reasonable standard for accuracy.


Some mistakes are whoppers. One textbook defines Newton's first law of motion by equating speed with velocity (which is speed and its direction). Another depicts the equator running through Texas, a hot state but not that hot. A third explains that fish maintain the same position in water by filling and emptying a special air bladder in their bodies—pure fabrication. Other boners include amusing production foul-ups, like the photo of singer Linda Ronstadt labeled "a silicon crystal doped with arsenic impurity."


The study's director, North Carolina State University physics professor John L. Hubisz, notes that teachers often don't have the requisite scientific background to catch these serious errors. Other recent studies have found similar problems in biology and history textbooks.


More money is all that's needed to fix the schools? Not when it's spent, as all too often, on junk like this.

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