From a report this month by Lynne V. Cheney, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities:

Many of the textbooks used in American schools are so dull that no one would read them voluntarily. Observers have been commenting on the bland nature of American textbooks since at least the 1950s, but their criticism has managed to change the situation only marginally. We continue to teach history with textbooks that drain all drama out of the past... .

Textbook analyst Harriet Tyson-Bernstein has noted that bad textbooks are often the result of good intentions. Readability formulas, for example, were devised many decades ago with the admirable aim of helping children learn to read more easily. But arbitrarily limiting vocabulary and sentence length, as the formulas do, may leave children wondering why they should bother to learn to read at all. A textbook adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" for example, leaves out vivid details: the Chinese emperor's golden throne and porcelain palace, the silver bells that grow in his garden, the shining jewels that decorate a mechanical nightingale he is given. Omitting such details simplifies vocabulary but also eliminates the challenge of words like "sapphire." And it results in writing that is flat and dull... .

Another admirable goal that textbook publishers have set in recent years is to include more women and minorities -- groups that were not given sufficient attention in the past. All too often, however, textbooks include individuals from these groups only by "mentioning" them rather than by giving a full account of their lives and contributions.