YET MORE ON ALGEBRA TEXTBOOKS THROUGH THE AGES….Our story so far: Diane Ravitch wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week in which she bemoaned the “dumbing down” of math textbooks. As an example, she noted that the index for the letter “F” in a classic 1973 algebra textbook included topics such as factoring and functions, while the index for a newer text listed subjects like football and ferris wheels.

An emailer wrote to tell me this was wrong: the text in question has two indexes, and the topic index includes entries for functions, formulas, fractional exponents, and all the other usual topics of introductory algebra. Quoting the context index was just a bit of agit-prop designed to mislead readers about the content of the book.

I emailed Ravitch to ask about this and she pleaded ignorance, saying she was just quoting from a book chapter by Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton. As it turns out, she was quoting from Chapter 8 of Our Schools & Our Future, a 2003 publication of the Hoover Institution. Here’s a screen capture of the relevant section of the chapter. I’ve photoshopped it to bring the text and the table together:

There’s not much question about it: Evers and Clopton excerpted only the context index from the newer book, ignoring the topic index. To find out why, I called Evers at the Hoover Institution. However, like Ravitch, he pleaded ignorance and suggested I call his co-author, who had the original source materials they had used.

So I called Clopton on Thursday. Was there a second index in the book? “I don’t recall that at all,” he said. Then a pause. “I don’t believe it.” But he said he’d dig through his source material and call me back on Friday.

Friday rolled around and there was no call. So I called and left a message. An hour later I called again. By the end of the day, I still hadn’t heard back.

[UPDATE: My mistake. On Saturday I discovered a message from Clopton in my spam folder saying he was still looking for the book.]

This is, to be sure, a minor mystery, but nonetheless it’s the kind of minor mystery the blogosphere excels at clearing up. So here’s my request. I need to get in touch with someone who has a copy of Contemporary Mathematics in Context, Course One and can check to see if it has two indexes. Even better, if you can scan the “F” section of the topic index and email it to me, I’ll post it this weekend so we can make up our own minds. Doesn’t that sound exciting?

I should make clear that I’m not entering into a discussion of the merits of this book versus more traditional approaches to math. CMiC is an “integrated” approach to high school math that does away with the old Algebra I/Geometry/Algebra II division and instead covers a little bit of each topic every year. Is this good? Beats me. However, despite the effort to prove otherwise via selective citation of index entries, the books themselves seem to cover roughly the same topics that traditional texts cover, plus a bunch of probability and statistics.

For now, though, all I want is a copy of the “F” section of the topic index. Can anyone help me out?

UPDATE: A final resolution is here. There are indeed two indexes.

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