Center For Inquiry Critiques Civics Textbook

The Center For Inquiry has put out a paper (PDF) that documents several egregious errors found in James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr.’s American Government: Institutions and Policies textbook.

The mistakes are all over the place. While passages directly from the textbook are presented in CFI’s document, brief summaries of their analysis are presented below.

On Global Warming:

The textbook wrongly portrays the settled, firmly-established science of global warming as a product of “activist scientists” and the source of “profound disagreement” within the scientific community. The textbook levels the outrageous charge that global warming “has resulted in a conflict among elites who often base their arguments as much on ideology as on facts.” Astonishingly, the textbook questions whether the greenhouse effect itself “exists at all.”

On School Prayer:

The textbook repeatedly asserts, without qualification or further explanation, that the U.S. Supreme Court will not allow prayer in public schools.

These statements ignore the U.S. Supreme Court‘s well-established case law distinguishing impermissible government religious speech from the constitutionally protected private religious speech of students.

Constitutionally protected prayer in public schools occurs under many circumstances, including prayer during noninstructional time; prayer during extracurricular student groups‘ and community organizations‘ use of school facilities, both after the school day and on weekends; and prayer in moments of silence during the school day.

On Lawrence v. Texas and Same-Sex Marriage:

The textbook first states that the Court in Lawrence overturned the state statute in question “again by a five-to-four vote,” wrongly implying that the Court‘s decision was closely divided. In fact, Lawrence was a six-to-three ruling. This error should be corrected.

The textbook then proceeds to an astonishingly imbalanced statement of the “benefit” and “cost” of the Lawrence decision:

The benefit was to strike down a law that was rarely enforced and if introduced today probably could not be passed. The cost was to create the possibility that the Court, and not Congress or the state legislatures, might decide whether same-sex marriages were legal.

This statement at once belittles the Lawrence decision‘s importance and stakes a politically charged position on the issue of same-sex marriage…

On Constitutional Government and Original Sin:

Unfortunately, the textbook erroneously suggests that one of the principal motivations for the key provisions of the Constitution was the Founders‘ alleged recognition of the flaws in human nature resulting from “original sin.”

The key passage in the textbook occurs on page 84, where it is stated that “To the colonists all of mankind suffered from original sin, symbolized by Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Since no one was born innocent, no one could be trusted with power. Thus the Constitution had to be designed in such a way as to curb the darker side of human nature. Otherwise everyone‘s rights would be in jeopardy.”

On the Establishment Cause:

… the textbook is clearly in error when it suggests that the Establishment Clause was intended only to prohibit a national religion or government preference for one religion until a last minute change rendered the clause ambiguous.

On the Significance of a Denial of a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari:

In one of the passages discussing the limits on government support of religion, the textbook makes a misstatement about permissible government endorsement of religion that, although not especially significant by itself, nonetheless shows a serious misunderstanding of the role and function of the Supreme Court.

… There are any number of reasons why the Court may decline to review a decision, including a record that is unclear or a desire to have more federal appellate courts provide their views on the matter before the Supreme Court takes up the issue. The
Supreme Court itself has explicitly cautioned the public that “[t]he denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.”

Again, the full version of the critique, with citations/appendices/footnotes, can be found here (PDF).

CFI says this textbook is used “in many secondary schools around the country, including advanced placement courses.”

I would like to see specifics on which schools are using it and how much emphasis is placed on the book in the classrooms, but that’s asking a lot.

I’m not sure how big a battle would be won if these changes are made to the text. (Surely, other textbooks contain just as many inaccuracies.) But it’s an excellent piece of work to see the errors pointed out like this.

If publishers continue to get called out on their biases (and downright lies), hopefully schools will take notice and refuse to do business with them.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Many of these sound like more than mere mistakes. They are egregious to the point of simple dishonest scholarship. I know that both authors are political in their own way, but as scholars writing a textbook, things like this really undermine their professionalism.

  • Kathryn

    Hmm, I think that was our AP Gov’t book.

    James Loewen pointed out that most history texts contain tons of factual inaccuracies, so the idea that there’s a definite religious bias in most texts is not surprising. Just publishers trying to cover their asses, I guess.

  • I like tea

    Haha, they question whether the greenhouse effect exists at all? That’s taking it a little too far. That’s like saying, “The earth is not four billion years old! In fact, I question whether this ‘year’ thing of yours exists at all.”

    Just take a look at Venus if you want to know if the greenhouse effect exists.

  • JVTruman

    How does this compare with the same authors’ ‘American Government: The Essentials’? That is the textbook I used for my community college American National Government course; I pulled it out, and it doesn’t seem to be as bad as you described here, but I didn’t read the whole thing through again (and it’s been a while).

  • sabrina

    I can’t figure out why the right is always trying to indoctrinate kids in high school, with creationism, global warming, and government classes. For one, how many high school kids are really paying attention, and second, why not just give the facts and let the kids decide for themselves if they’re right wing Republican or leftie Democrat. More often than not, young people will decide in college, and hopefully, it will be based on facts, research, and a good understanding of the issues.

  • Miko

    If publishers continue to get called out on their biases (and downright lies), hopefully schools will take notice and refuse to do business with them.

    For an analysis of how much attention schools will pay to this, I suggest Feynman’s article “Judging Books by their Covers” (http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm). In summary, don’t expect them to make rational decisions or to consider the quality of the text in purchasing decisions.

    I can’t figure out why the right is always trying to indoctrinate kids in high school, with creationism, global warming, and government classes. For one, how many high school kids are really paying attention

    Indoctrination typically works by throwing things in when people aren’t really paying attention; if they were actually paying attention, they’d realize that it was all nonsense.

    and second, why not just give the facts and let the kids decide for themselves if they’re right wing Republican or leftie Democrat. More often than not, young people will decide in college, and hopefully, it will be based on facts, research, and a good understanding of the issues.

    Those with a college education are Democrats by a large majority, so it would seem that giving people all the facts and letting them make an objective decision wouldn’t be a wise move on the Republican’s part. In fact, there’s also a fairly strong positive correlation between voter turnout and Democrats winning (disclaimer: that is, in the data I’ve looked at, namely my local and national data from the last 50 years or so, which may not be representative of anything else), so it’s actually in the Republicans’ interest (assuming causation as well as correlation) to stop as many people as they can from voting, which looking at their history with the Motor-Voter Act, vote counting lawsuits, etc., is indeed what they seem to be attempting.

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  • http://kirkwoodunited.org Markus

    Brilliant!

    Just last year I was in my senior year at high school and this rubbish was shoved down my throught…yes I could tune it out, but it was my only source of textbook material for the AP tests.

    What is also missing from this article is that 8/10 times I’d look at the source of a graphic be it a graph or a poll, the source would be anywhere from the WSJ to the Heritage foundation, very few NYT and I think one mentioning of a Brookings Institute graph…

    I raised similar calls to my school officials…sad thing for me was I live in a 90% hardcore conservative region.


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