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September 05, 2013 11:45 AM What Do Biology Textbooks Teach? Mostly MCAT Prep

By Daniel Luzer

Biology

Textbooks are a big deal in education. In recent years we’ve seen criticism of how conservative Christians help skew the content of books used in primary and secondary schools and the huge markup publishers enjoy on college textbooks.

Now comes a new concern. According to a new study published in CBE-Life Sciences Education, college biology textbooks seem to be geared to prepare students for medical school examination tests. This is despite the fact that not everyone taking biology has any intention of ever becoming a doctor or taking the MCAT.

As the study explains:

Biology textbooks… present a topic scope and sequence that correlates with the topic scope and importance ratings of the biology content specifications for the MCAT regardless of the intended audience. Texts for “nonmajors,” GE [general education] courses appear derived directly from their publisher’s majors text. Topic scope and sequence of GE texts reflect those of “their” majors text and, indirectly, the MCAT. MCAT term density of GE texts equals or exceeds that of their corresponding majors text.

What’s more, because biology textbooks so closely align to MCAT questions, the books avoid other topics important to biology, including evolution and climate change.

Biology textbooks largely emphasize molecular and cellular biology, which are very important to the MCATs, and largely avoid “big issues” in biology, according to Steven Rissing, who performed the study.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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