July 13, 2006
New York Times Story Reports Findings from Visiting CUA Sociology Professor James Loewen Discovers Virtually Identical Language in Two Different History Textbooks
CUA Visiting Professor of Sociology James W. Loewen - credited with uncovering similarities in high school history textbooks by two different sets of authors - is quoted in a July 13 New York Times story (see below: "Schoolbooks Are Given F's in Originality" ) about the discovery.
The story notes that the language used to describe the 9/11 terrorist attacks is virtually identical in the two textbooks: the 2005 edition of "A History of the United States," by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, and the 2005 edition of "America: Pathways to the Present," by Allan Winkler, a historian at Miami University of Ohio, who wrote the book with Andrew Cayton, Elisabeth I. Perry and Linda Reed.
Loewen, who's been teaching at CUA since 1997, made the discovery while updating his own 1995 best-seller about inaccuracies in history texts, "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong." According to the Times story, Loewen found that the two textbooks use nearly identical language to cover other subjects as well, including the disputed 2000 presidential election, the Persian Gulf war and the war in Afghanistan.
"Treatment of 9/11 and the two Iraq wars and the Florida election of 2000 are among the more important pieces of our past," Loewen says in the article. "I think that these authors should have actually written these passages they claim to write."
The Times article notes that the two books are an example of how the world of textbook publishing often works. "These passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers," the article states. "And while it is rare that the same language is used in different books, it is common for noted scholars to give their names to elementary and high school texts, lending prestige and marketing power, while lesser known writers have a hand in the books and their frequent revisions."
Last month, the residents of Rochester, Minn., chose Loewen's "Lies my Teacher Told Me" as the 2007 selection for the city's Rochester Reads program, which will culminate in discussions and events related to the book next February. Loewen is also the author of " Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong" and "Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism."
From: New York Times ( http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/13/books/13textbook.html?ex=1152849600&en=28df73c06cf88880&ei=5087%0A ) Date: July 13, 2006 Author: Diana Jean Schemo
This is how the 2005 edition of "A History of the United States," a high school history textbook by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, relates the cataclysmic attacks of 9/11 for a new generation of young adults:
"In New York City, the impact of the fully fueled jets caused the twin towers to burst into flames. The fires led to the catastrophic collapse of both 110-story buildings as well as other buildings in the area. The numbers of people missing and presumed dead after this assault was estimated to be 2,750."
The language is virtually identical to that in the 2005 edition of another textbook, "America: Pathways to the Present," by different authors. The books use substantially identical language to cover other subjects as well, including the disputed presidential election of 2000, the Persian Gulf war, the war in Afghanistan and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security .
Just how similar passages showed up in two books is a tale of how the largely obscure $4 billion a year world of elementary and high school textbook publishing often works, for these passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers. And while it is rare that the same language is used in different books, it is common for noted scholars to give their names to elementary and high school texts, lending prestige and marketing power, while lesser known writers have a hand in the books and their frequent revisions.
As editions pass, the names on the spine of a book may have only a distant or dated relation to the words between the covers, diluted with each successive edition, people in the industry, and even authors, say.
In the case of the two history texts, the authors appeared mortified by the similarities and said they had had nothing to do with the changes.
"They were not my words," said Allan Winkler, a historian at Miami University of Ohio, who wrote the "Pathways" book with Andrew Cayton, Elisabeth I. Perry and Linda Reed. "It's embarrassing. It's inexcusable."
Wendy Spiegel, a spokeswoman for Pearson Prentice Hall, which published both books and is one of the nation's largest textbook publishers, called the similarities "absolutely an aberration."
She said that after Sept. 11, 2001, her company, like other publishers, hastily pulled textbooks that had already been revised and were lined up for printing so that the terror attacks could be accounted for. The material on the attacks, as well as on the other subjects, was added by in-house editors or outside writers, she said.
She added that it was "unfortunate" that the books had identical passages, but said that there were only "eight or nine" in volumes that each ran about 1,000 pages.
Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, a nonprofit group that monitors history textbooks, said he was not familiar with this particular incident. But Mr. Sewall said the publishing industry had a tendency to see authors' names as marketing tools.
"The publishers have a brand name and that name sells textbooks," he said. "That's why you have well-established authorities who put their names on the spine, but really have nothing to do with the actual writing process, which is all done in-house or by hired writers."
The industry is replete with examples of the phenomenon. One of the most frequently used high school history texts is "Holt the American Nation," first published in 1950 as "Rise of the American Nation" and written by Lewis Paul Todd and Merle Curti. For each edition, the book appeared with new material, long after one author had died and the other was in a nursing home. Eventually, the text was reissued as the work of another historian, Paul S. Boyer.
Professor Boyer, emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, acknowledged that the original authors had supplied the structure of the book that carries his name. But he said that as he revises the text, he adds new scholarship, themes and interpretations. He defended the disappearance of the original authors' names from the book, saying it would be more misleading to carry their names when they had no say in current editions.
"Textbooks are hardly the same as the Iliad or Beowulf," he added.
Richard Blake, a spokesman for Harcourt Education, a division of Holt, said none of the editors involved in the extended use of the Todd and Curti names were still with the company. But he said that now "all contributors and reviewers on each edition are listed in the front of the book," and that naming new principal authors depended largely on the extent of their contributions.
The similarities in the Prentice Hall books were discovered by James W. Loewen, who is updating his 1995 best seller, "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong."
"Treatment of 9/11 and the two Iraq wars and the Florida election of 2000 are among the more important pieces of our past," Mr. Loewen said. "I think that these authors should have actually written these passages they claim to write."
But Ms. Spiegel defended the additions by other writers. "The authors who have their names on the books have written, reviewed and approved content that is submitted to them" she said. "Their level of participation is based on their particular interest or their contractual relationship with the publisher."
Professor Winkler, one of the authors of "America: Pathways to the Present," said he and his co-authors had written "every word" of the first edition, aiming to teach American history from a sociological perspective, from the grass roots up. But, he said, in updated editions, the authors reviewed passages written by freelancers or in-house writers or editors.
He said the authors collaborated on their last major revision before Sept. 11, 2001, working with editorial staff members in Boston. But he said that after the attacks, he was not asked to write updates and was not shown revisions.
"There was no reason in the world to think that we would not see material that was stuck in there at some point in the future," Professor Winkler said. "Given the fact that similar material was used in another book, we are really profoundly upset and outraged."
Ms. Spiegel said that the 9/11 revisions were made quickly and that authors were asked to update their texts after the attacks.
"In the deadline set before us, some authors elected to submit their copy for the coverage of those events; in other cases, a professional wrote those passages for the authors," she said.
Mr. Boorstin, the former chief librarian at the Library of Congress and lead author of "A History of the United States," died in 2004 as he was updating the book. Ms. Spiegel said his widow, Ruth Frankel Boorstin, had worked closely with him and had finished the revisions. Ms. Boorstin did not return several telephone calls to her residence.
Mr. Boorstin's co-author, Mr. Kelley, said he was "outraged" by the identical passages, but he said he did not consider them plagiarism, because the authors never intended to lift another's work.
"Frankly, many of these textbooks, unlike ours, were not written by the authors who were once involved with them," he said.
"Years after some of the more famous textbook authors have died, they're still coming out," he added. "That is a long-term practice in publishing. I don't know what to call that, but it's certainly true."
Susan Buckley, a longtime writer and editor of elementary and high school social studies textbooks who retired after 35 years in the business, said that "whole stables" of unnamed writers sometimes wrote the more important high school textbooks, although in other instances, named authors wrote the first editions. In elementary school textbooks, Ms. Buckley added, named authors almost never write their own text.
She said even if named authors did not write the text, they had an important role as scholars, shaping coverage and reviewing copy.
William Cronon, a historian at the University of Wisconsin who wrote the American Historical Association's statement on ethics, said textbooks were usually corporate-driven collaborative efforts, in which the publisher had extensive rights to hire additional writers, researchers and editors and to make major revisions without the authors' final approval. The books typically synthesize hundreds of works without using footnotes to credit sources.
"This is really about an awkward and embarrassing situation these authors have been put in because they've got involved in textbook publishing," Professor Cronon said.
Professor Winkler said he understood the editorial perils of textbook writing, but wanted to reach a wider audience. He said he was not motivated by money. Named authors share royalties, generally 10 to 15 percent of the net profits, on each printing of the text, whether they write it or not.
"I want the respect of my peers," Professor Winkler said. "I've written monographs, biographies," but these reach a limited audience. "I want to be able to tell that story to other people, and that's what textbooks do."