School textbooks: Publishers gone wild

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It's no secret that states, districts, and schools often select textbooks for reasons having little or nothing to do with how effective they are. The process for deciding which book gets bought is reached on the basis of expensive marketing ploys by the major textbook publishers which shut out the smaller players, and generally feature elaborate displays which require only that officials thumb through books judging which looks prettiest or which portrays the greatest diversity. A recent Wall Street Journal article calls attention to the lengths publishers will go to make sure their respective textbooks are eye-pleasers, taking no chance that a book might be turned down for its pictures.

One publisher is so deathly afraid of stereotypes that it won't use photographs portraying Asian Americans "with glasses, bowl-shaped haircuts, or as intellectuals." Better yet, one company removed an image of a boy walking a pig, for fear of offending Jews and Muslims. They replaced the pig with a beaver, apparently less concerned about the feelings of children with buckteeth.

Diane Ravitch, who wrote a book on the subject, commented, "There's more textbook space devoted to photos, illustrations, and graphics than there's ever been, but frequently they have nothing to do with the lesson." Recently McGraw Hill published a textbook with a profile and photo of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot. However, there was no mention or image of aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. A company spokeswoman said the brothers had been left out "inadvertently."