Supermarket Botany Article

David Hershey dh321 at EXCITE.COM
Fri Jul 2 13:14:45 EST 1999

The February 1999 issue of American Biology Teacher had an article,
"Supermarket Botany," which was filled with basic errors. In the June
issue, four letters to the editor pointed out many, but not all, of the
errors, and rightly so. The appalling thing to me is that the authors of
"Supermarket Botany" tried to defend their errors. For example, in the
article they said the edible celery stalk was a stem and when it was
pointed out to them that celery stalks are actually petioles, they
responded that "Celery is not technically a stem, but then a petiole has
been defined as an extension of a stem." If a student was asked on a
collage biology exam if the edible celery stalk was a stem, root, or
leaf, would you give them credit if they answered stem? 

I cannot buy the authors excuse that many of the errors were because
they were trying to simplify things for a nonmajors course. If you want
to simplify, then you don't tell students that the edible part of a
carrot is a combination of root and stem, you simply tell them that it
is a root.

Another letter writer pointed out that the authors of "Supermarket
Botany" were an herpatologist and an ornithologist. The authors did not
confirm or deny if they were but instead said they considered themselves
biologists. That brings to mind the Dec. 5, 1919 Science article by Yale
University's George E. Nichols which said that biology is "botany taught
by a zoologist" and 

"There are altogether too many good zoologists, for example, whose
knowledge of biology outside their own field is extremely limited. Only
too often their familiarity with plants is little more than skin-deep...
Their thin veneer of botanical wisdom may pass muster in the high
school, but it does not take the more mature college student long to
penetrate beneath the surface. It is an experience altogether too common
that a student coming into botany from a course in general biology is so
woefully lacking in his comprehension of plant life that it is necessary
for him to repeat all over again the botanical studies he has already

How little things have changed in eighty years. 

David R. Hershey
dh321 at

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