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By the Book

Skeptic throws the book at texts

By Gretchen Giles

IT TAKES a whole village to raise a child. At least that's what those of us with children in elementary or high school are being taught right now. Multiculturalism is in in a big way, from the cast of Sesame Street strategically strung out along racial-, gender-, and abilities-oriented guidelines to Coca-Cola ads that threaten to never show a white face, to textbooks that generally include the beliefs and achievements of indigenous peoples along with the triumphs of traditional European exploration.

For many parents, particularly the guilty white-liberal species among which I count myself as a member, this is a favorable trend.

Scientist Bill Bennetta agrees. He just wishes those texts that form the foundation of the teaching tools in middle school and high school classrooms told the truth.

"Most often, schoolbooks are distorted, twisted, and turned inside out not so much by commission as by omission," says Bennetta, the president of the Textbook League, a non-profit watchdog group that publishes a bimonthly analytical newsletter reviewing new texts on history, science, human sexuality, geography, and social studies. "Because what these [publishers] really try to do is to expunge through a process of self-censorship anything that might offend anybody anywhere.

"The result is bland mush that has no meaning as science, as history, as geography, or as anything else because it has been trimmed and shorn, not only of reality," he laughs while seated in his comfortable Petaluma kitchen, "but of the things that to any normal person represent some of the most important ideas that ever were."

In Bennetta's view, "This process has been, in the past couple of decades, very strongly slanted to favoring and catering to the Right," he continues, citing Christian revisionism of texts, particularly those in Texas schools. "But now what we're seeing is a completely analogous process that seeks to cater to the Left, and it is in the Left that we locate the multi-culti crazies."

Like a Rush Limbaugh of the middle ground, Bennetta--a journalist with an advanced degree in chemical engineering and whose Ph.D. work in biology is just short of a thesis--is merely getting warmed up.

"Multi-culti is a racist movement," he asserts. "If you look at it, again and again, for these people culture is a code word for race, and cultural is a code word for racial."

That's just how it is, he adds later. "I could give you one or two or three examples, but that wouldn't make my case," he explains. "I'm telling you that my inference is based on hundreds of examples."

Bennetta's examples include stock, thoughtless sentences found within many of the textbooks that line his home. These dispense such misinformation as that dosages of ginseng root are equivalent to a doctor's checkup and assertions that Native American peoples invented irrigation, leaving a student to believe that they were the first and only ones to invent such a farming practice. There also are inaccurate comparisons of Hopi architectural practices with University of Iowa experiments in cooling systems, and questionable graphics that equate the spiritual sense indigenous Americans had of the earth with the scientific findings of core and mantle.

"There's no reason why a biology book couldn't have a chapter devoted to a history of different agricultural practices," he reasons, "and show how many different peoples all over the world independently struck upon many similar, basic ideas, irrigation being one of them. That is exactly what is not done.

"To deliberately distort this stuff to glorify discredited ideas and people who simply were not able to cope with anything and were swamped when they did meet up with people who knew something about nature, this is a horror. It's all being done to deny and suppress the fact--the grand, overarching fact--that a single intellectual tradition, invented only 500 years ago by a bunch of Europeans, revolutionized the world."

Claiming that "the multi-culti types hate science" because it was invented by such dead white guys as Galileo and Kepler, Bennetta sees the multicultural movement in education as anti-intellectual and anti-scientific, one that rejects proven scientific tenets in favor of a jumble that includes Western empirical knowledge tossed freely with native mysticism.

"If we look it at in the realm of science," he says, "what we find are repeated, consistent efforts in book after book to equate primitive superstitions with scientific findings, to suggest that weird, pre-scientific ideas about nature are equivalent to, or just as good as, scientific findings based on evidence and reason.

"If kids do not understand what science is, and the idea of learning about nature on the basis of evidence and reason," Bennetta says emphatically, "apart from all of that other nonsense that from the beginning of time has held people in thrall--superstition, ignorance, and supernaturalism--then kids don't have a chance.

"That's what I'm so upset about."

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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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