World Book encyclopedia gives some presidents more love than others

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The venerable publishing company World Book, which produces a variety of popular reference materials, has released an online children’s encyclopedia that is drawing fire from experts who charge that it lets politics get in the way of objective facts.

The information contained in the World Book Kids edition on U.S. presidents appears to negatively portray Republican executives while glossing over controversies surrounding Democratic ones, a review by The Daily Caller has found.

The encyclopedia’s entry on former President Bill Clinton, for example, includes effusive commentary on his college days. Clinton “read a lot, joined clubs and played the saxophone in band,” the entry states. The comments on Clinton’s upbringing  also include anecdotes about his childhood growing up in a troubled home, which the entry says taught him to be a “peacemaker” and helped him develop “skills that would help him be a good leader.”

The encyclopedia calls Clinton “a hard-working student” who paid attention to “fights for justice for African Americans.” But World Book makes no mention of George W. Bush’s  push for aid to Africa, or Ronald Reagan’s fight to end the oppression of people living under Communism.

There is also no mention of President Clinton’s impeachment, though the entry does state that “some people questioned his family’s money deals and his morals.”

By contrast, Richard Nixon’s entry mentions his resignation in the very first line. And Ronald Reagan’s entry concludes that “many people” felt that the Iran-Contra scandal was wrong. It also focuses extensively on what World Book perceives as his policy failures while in office:

Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union. They signed an agreement to get rid of some kinds of nuclear weapons. But a government group secretly sold weapons to Iran and gave the money to political groups in Nicaragua. Many people felt it was wrong.

During his first term, Reagan wanted lower taxes and more money for defense. Congress adopted most of his programs. But in 1981, companies failed and people lost their jobs. The government spent far more than it took in. In March 1981, a man tried to kill Ragan [sic].

The World Book’s entry on President Obama is the longest of all the recent presidents’ and goes into the details of his move to Chicago to “work for a church group that helped people in poor, inner-city neighborhoods.”

But the encyclopedia’s commentary on George W. Bush contains only one paragraph related to his presidency, and George H.W. Bush’s entry sums up his term in office on a sobering note:

The United States also had trouble at home. Many people did not have jobs. A growing number of people were homeless. Americans worried about crime and drug abuse. Many people blamed Bush for not solving these problems. Bush wanted to win another term as president, but he lost the election in 1992.

These entries, which are geared towards children from the 1st through 5th grades, are raising concerns among experts who think they are too opinionated to be featured in the World Book, which calls itself the “number #1 selling print encyclopedia in the world.”

Jimmy Wales, the founder of the popular user-generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia, said that the World Book Kids edition injects too much subjectivity into its entries.

“Wikipedia, while by no means perfect, does have a strong policy that the encyclopedia itself should never take a stand on any controversial issue – but should present all the major viewpoints accurately,” Wales told The Daily Caller.  “The proper goal of an encyclopedia is to give people the information they need to think about an issue for themselves – not to guide them to a conclusion.  These entries you have shown me left me looking for the ‘edit’ link to tone down the bias.”

Others more sharply condemned the World Book’s contents.

“I find these entries outrageously unobjective in their accounts of the achievements and failures of the presidents,” said Marsha Familaro Enright, an educator for over 25 years who founded a Montessori school in Chicago in 1990 and recently started a foundation, The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, to build a new liberal arts college.

“Furthermore, these entries present a very limited amount of information to children, in a very poorly reasoned fashion – shocking for an encyclopedia which, one would presume, is meant to convey well-researched, well-presented, and well-reasoned material to children as a trusted source and an example of how to think and write,” said Enright.

Enright added that biased reference materials regularly pose a challenge for her staff and students.

“This is the kind of material or worse that we face daily in choosing texts for grade school children — material which makes a pretense at quality and objectivity, yet teaches poor reasoning and biased information to its audience,” Enright said. “It’s no wonder students arrive at college freshman year with poor cognitive skills, ripe for the collectivist chanting that indoctrinates them more.”

Calls and emails to Chicago-based World Book, Inc., which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, went unanswered.

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