Critics question problems found in Michigan's new online textbooks

(WXYZ) - The state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars creating on-line textbooks, hoping to save schools money on books. The problem?  Some critics say the books are full of misinformation,  poor grammar,  and even cultural insensitivity.

Attached to this story are screenshots of some of the passages that raised red flags in the mind of Darin Stockdill, a curriculum specialist who reviewed books created by the Michigan Open Book Project.

He found grammatical errors that leave the reading nonsensical.There is a passage in a social studies book that reads, "There is also a line of longitude called the Prime Meridian.  This line helps up with our time system.” 

There is cultural insensitivity. An American History book reads, “American Indians were getting sick and dying from heat, exhaustion, and European diseases while enslaved, so they were not hardy enough to do this work.”

Critics would say their deaths due to exploitation and a lack of immunity to foreign diseases had little to do with how “hardy” they were for any work.

When the book addresses slavery it reads in part, “If a slave was found, they were often punished severely when they returned. They could be given more chores, or they could possibly be sold to another location, away from their friends and family. Slaves knew this was a risk when they ran away, but they chose to run away anyway.”

Critics would say, 'Really?  Chores?  It likens forced labor to the duties of a child as part of a family.'

7 Action News reached out to the man with the job of putting these textbooks together. He said he takes these concerns seriously.

“We don’t want an error to be in there,” said David Johnson, who worked on the Michigan Open Book Project. “I think the perk of a digital resource is we can fix them and deliver them wirelessly.”

He says over the course of about a year teachers from around the state wrote the four textbooks that have been published online.  It is only part of a project funded with a $600,000 State Department of Education grant. 

He says they produced the textbooks on a budget much smaller than a normal textbook publisher would. He says, admittedly, the teachers who helped the project are not necessarily experienced at writing textbooks, but they worked with a noble goal.  He says the books will be improved.

“Teachers around the state came together to work on something with the hope it will have an effect beyond the walls of their classroom,” said Johnson.

He says his goal is to get problems found in the text fixed within about 48 hours after they are found.

Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson, the Superintendent of Oakland Schools says the concept of the Michigan Open Book Project is great. She hopes it is not abandoned.

"We think the project has tremendous potential, though it appears some of the materials were released prematurely. We would like see thoughtful editing and piloting of the materials before broad use in classrooms,” said Dr. Cook-Robinson. 

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