reprinted from South China Morning Post, October 28 2004
There were 15 Roman emperors in all of history. Jews are often discriminated against because of their traditions, such as killing Germans, and fish breathe through lungs. These are just a few examples of the fascinating assertions in Philippine school textbooks - things you have probably never heard before, and for good reason: they are terribly, stupidly wrong.
Exactly how wrong was recently exposed by Antonio Calipjo Go, a private-school official so incensed by errors in government-approved textbooks that he took out a newspaper advert pointing them out. Far from being shamed, some of the authors retorted that Mr Go had "fabricated" the errors or quoted "out of context". Frankly, it is hard to spot the context in the statement, made in one book for high schools, that the Great Wall of China is 272km long. Or that a sitar is a musical instrument whose strings are made of teakwood. According to one book, Asians are among the poorest people in the world because they do not believe in Jesus.
Textbook publishing is a lucrative business, with contracts running into the hundreds of millions of pesos. The Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism has reported that the industry is mired in corruption, with publishers paying off education department officials to get books approved. In this kickback environment, nobody cares what gets printed.
As a result, schoolchildren come home full of "facts" that will only ever be useful in a Quiz Show From Hell. According to one 400-page history book, Jews are the most fortunate people in the world. And the (Catholic Counter-Reformation) Council of Trent created an index of banned books, one of which was the Bible. Also, Asians are among the poorest people in the world because they do not believe in Jesus.
The Department of Education, which initially derided Mr Go, has now admitted there might be at least "one major error" in one textbook. But it refuses to recall 1.14 million copies of the 316-page book which Mr Go cited that has 431 mistakes.
And officials say they are at a loss about how to punish the textbook writers - apparently there is no law against poisoning students' minds. The publishers themselves have kept quiet. One did say that as far as it was concerned, the government had bought the books, and that was that.
Nobody actually seems to care what sort of imbeciles the schools using these textbooks are producing. Four years ago, one book was identified as being so full of errors that the publisher burned 1 million pesos (HK$138,00) worth of the edition. Before it did so, it was approached by one senator who asked if she could have the copies to donate to schools.
Clearly, there is a long and bitter struggle ahead in Mr Go's crusade, which, as every student here knows, is a holy war waged by Buddhists.