The Textbook Trap » Examples of errors in secular textbooks

Errors Aren't Caught, but Errors Are Catching

The existence of unacceptable errors in current mainstream textbooks is well-documented. The fact that the same errors continue to exist, however, is surprising. Yet the business of how textbooks are created and edited explains some of the problems.

One former proofreader for a large textbook development agency recounts an experience with a science textbook about to be published: “I was told that unless an expletive was printed on the page in large type, I should not change anything. I saw blatant errors, but I wasn’t allowed to change them. It was too late and too expensive. The books went to print with mistakes that the publishers knew about.”1

Sometimes the errors are much more than typographical.

Once mistakes get in textbooks they’re very hard to get out.

Lawrence Davis, a biochemistry professor at Kansas State University and a reviewer of textbooks for The Textbook League, explains that the errors often result directly from how the mainstream textbooks are compiled. He says, regarding high school science textbooks, “There are errors that are real conceptual errors. And some authors tend not to explore everything from scratch and they go to other books and use those same examples that are wrong. Once mistakes get in textbooks they’re very hard to get out.”2

Part of the problem is that the publisher of one particular textbook may also own a competing book.  Therefore, “errors in one book now stand a greater chance of replicating themselves across other books, because, even with different imprints on the spine, they may originate from the same source.3

So… exactly how are these mainstream textbooks written?

1Reported by Gary A. Tobin and Dennis R. Ybarra, The Trouble with Textbooks. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008, p. 5.
2Quoted by Andrew J. Pulskamp, “Big Blunders Found in School Textbooks,” CampusEGO Magazine, November 3, 2008.
3Tobin and Ybarra, The Trouble with Textbooks, p. 9.