Textbooks have been the centerpiece of education for centuries now, and it is not all that uncommon for information to be updated and redacted throughout a textbook’s lifespan, through various new editions.
Some of these textbooks have such a long lifespan, it is impossible for them to remain objective and completely correct for decades, which makes finding errors today an easy task. It is particularly jarring when some of today’s textbooks get things offensively wrong.
We have listed some of these notable errors, examining errors ranging from incorrect math and grammar to offensive statements and even bigotry.
Keep in mind that some of these textbooks are still in use in classrooms, and the process for changing a textbook can be quite long. Ultimately, it is up to the school boards in the specific districts that still use them to change the curriculum.
Explore Textbook Errors
Historical Errors: Pay Attention to Timelines
To start, let’s look at a relatively minor infraction. You’d think a history book’s author would be paying careful attention to chronology, but that’s not always the case. Take for example this passage from Pearson Literature’s The American Experience:
… the Mayflower sailed into harbor at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620.”
That’s a little confusing, considering Plymouth was founded by the people on the Mayflower, and certainly didn’t exist as a city beforehand.
Another historical inaccuracy that really should have been caught by the publishers at McDougal comes from The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century
1492 Columbus first reaches North America.”
This would be a fine point for a timeline— if Columbus had ever made it to North America.
In reality, Columbus traveled in the Caribbean and to South America. The idea that Columbus “discovered America” has been making its way into common knowledge for a while now— and is totally false.
Grammatical Errors Confuse Readers
At least some of these other erroneous sentences made grammatical sense, unlike this passage from Joy of Statistics, a college textbook that originally cost $180:
A random sample of 50 pieces of plastic are being used 6mm these pieces of nylon rope are taken and the breaking strength (KN) is measured.”
Plastic? Or rope? What’s 6mm? More importantly, who proofread this and how do they still have a job?
From there we can get even stranger. In a version of a common Texas biology book, Fearon’s Biology, it tells the story of Dr. Frankenstein— like it actually happened. No mention that this was a fictional story written by Mary Shelley, in 1818, when she was only 21.
Frankenstein pieced together the parts of dead bodies. Finally, he brought a creature to life. But Frankenstein’s creation was an eight—foot monster. Eventually the monster destroyed the biologist.”
Poor Dr. Frankenstein. And poor students, coming out of a biology course believing that biologists spend time reanimating corpses.
The same biology book also makes the claim that it is impossible to walk through the rainforest in the Amazon:
It is thick with trees, vines bushes, and other plants. You can’t even walk or even push your way through most of the rain forest.”
This is not even a little true— in fact, the heavy growth at the top of the rainforest often keeps plant life from taking over at the ground level.
While nonsense sentences in statistic books and anachronistic history texts are disturbing, some of the textbooks published and used by thousands of American schools are flat out racist and offensive.
This passage from America: Land I Love, published by A Beka Book curriculum, is especially worrying:
God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”
In reality, the Trail of Tears is the name given to the forced march and relocation of thousands of Native Americans from the southeastern United States. Seminoles, Chocktaws, Creeks, Cherokees and other Native American tribes had their homes destroyed and were forced to march great distances and quartered in camps, treated terribly and subjected to exposure, disease and starvation. Thousands died. Of the 15,000 Cherokee, an estimated 4,000 perished as a direct result of the re—location. Unless “bring to Christ” is a euphemism for “bury”, it’s hard to understand what the textbook’s authors were trying to imply here.
While you might expect stuff like this from older textbooks, in this case from 1931’s The Lone Star State: A School History…
When the ‘carpet baggers’ arrived, they deceived and pampered the negroes and soon had them loafing about the country in idleness, homeless and helpless. Southern farmers could not get them to stay at home and work.”
This is wrong on so many levels, let’s move on.
It’s much more alarming to find the same kind of racism in modern textbooks, like this nursing guide from 2012. For instance, The Guide to Culturally Competent Healthcare seems to be anything but… referring to African Americans as “high-keyed, animated, confrontational and interpersonal” and asserting that Japanese men are—culturally— “presumed not to be capable of managing day-to-day matters.”
When it comes to actual health matters, the textbook claims that in the African American community, being overweight is seen as a positive and implies that voodoo doctors are ubiquitous.
We recommend absolutely no one use this book as a guide to anything.
A textbook used in Virginia was the center of a scandal when a sentence in the history book claimed that “thousands” of African Americans fought in the Civil War— for the South. When the book’s author was questioned, she said she found the sources on the Internet. Not exactly where you want the people teaching your kids to be going for core information about major conflicts.
In United States History for Christian Schools, things get even worse. The textbook reads:
A few slaveholders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well.”
Apparently the publishers at Bob Jones University think the only alternative to “beaten to death” is “treated well”. Downplaying the harsh reality of slavery is not only inaccurate, it’s unethical. But the University did just lift their ban on interracial dating on campus in 2000.
Before you get back to your life feeling too depressed about humanity, here’s a funny non sequitur from American Government in Christian Perspective— published in 1997:
It is no wonder that Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism.”
You heard it here folks— Satan is destroying the American family, one venomous shot of Communism at a time.
The moral of this story?
It’s a good idea to interact with kids and have discussions about the things they read, to spark interest in learning and reading.
Teaching children to know right from wrong and to be able to spot errors is a great lesson to learn — even when it comes from something written in their textbooks.
A Visual Guide to the Top 10 Worst Textbooks
Take a look at our Top 10 Worst Textbooks to be aware of what could be lurking in your child’s curriculum.