Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. —Proverbs 10:9.
The sins of Singapore’s educational math publishing by unscrupulous personnel of all sizes and shapes are pretty known in the industry, but the aftermath of their unethical practices are less commonly discussed in the open. Let’s look at a number of these unspoken consequences that affect publishers or editorial staff for taking crooked paths in trying to be a Who’s Who in local educational publishing.
One of the first signs on the veracity of the above biblical verse in Singapore’s educational publishing industry is the rejection of manuscripts submitted to the Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE). Local or foreign publishers’ titles are rejected, in spite of the companies having a larger editorial team and a bigger bank account, as compared to the smaller, nimble family-owned competitors—which may not necessarily be less unethical, though.
Many reasons are understandably being conjectured by the top management as to why the MOE had rejected their “decent” manuscripts; yet, it doesn’t require someone with many years of publishing experience to “see” why their titles didn’t deserve a stamp of approval.
2. Bleeding Investment
Another common sign is getting a book approved by the MOE, but the adoption rate of the title is disappointingly low. The publisher reluctantly has to fulfill its obligation as part of its agreement with the MOE to come up with teachers’ resources, as part of the package promised by the publisher to adopting schools.
Indeed, an approval with a low adoption figure is more often a curse than a blessing—the publisher has little choice but to spend money in developing the teachers’ resources, often at a loss, especially when editorial manpower could be better utilized to publishing more profitable titles.
3. The Art of Blundering
An unhealthy number of mistakes and errors continue to plague the publisher and its editorial team, in spite of securing a decent adoption rate, and often long after the book has been used by thousands of students and dozens of teachers for a few years. From typos to editorial blunders to conceptual faux pas, these editorial ills never cease to haunt editors and their managers—and to continually stress the authors.
4. Peter’s Principle
Editorial staff are unhealthily stressed, as they’re constantly looking for opportunities to get promoted to their next level of incompetency to cover up their present editorial ineptitude.
The hardworking skilled editors infrequently get appreciated and promoted, while the office politicians-bosses never stopped conniving or scheming to go further up the publishing ladder. Indeed, authors and writers often selfishly feel that this is a less unsatisfactory publishing deal, where these bogus senior editorial staff are least likely to cause conceptual damage to their manuscripts—in authors’ eyes, seniors mismanaging editors is deemed to be a less “undesirable exercise” than allowing them to mutilating their manuscripts.
5. A Travesty of Publishing Knowhow
That nagging sense of job insecurity, and the poor sales figures as a result of low school adoption rates, both locally and overseas, are never off the mind of the insecure or unethical editorial staff.
What if we have to print out a few errata pages? What if teachers or parents complain about my poor command of the English language, or editorial or/and conceptual blunders?
The list of rational (and irrational) fears haunting editors and their editorially naked managers doesn’t end even after the book might have garnered a decent adoption rate in the first year of use.
6. Job-hopping Isn’t an Option
Those of us, writers or/and editors, who have been in the publishing industry (or involved in the writing game) for a while know too well that often times, the management moves from one level of hell to a seemingly less fiery one, to avoid being caught for unethical practices and faux editorial skills, even for a short period of time. Most manage to flee before the house is set on fire, while a few unlucky [often the less unethical] ones are too focused on their work to smell any smoke in their midst—they’re eventually either forced to leave or fired based on some lame top managerial excuses.
7. Death by Extension and Hijacking
Pseudo senior editors, managing editors, and publishing managers are notoriously known to recruit editors who are as incompetent as them, or less so. Because of their poor publishing experience and their inability to recruit or spot decent editorial talent, it’s common practice for these senior staff to ritually apply for an extension of MOE deadlines. Moreover, it’s also not uncommon for semi-competent editors and their managers to resign in the heat of deadlines to join a competitor for a senior position, albeit they’re well aware that they’d be working under even more unscrupulous bosses, or ill-equipped to handle the new half-edited assignments.
The management find themselves editorially helpless, as they feel hijacked by their half-baked editors; and they’re always extinguishing more and bigger fires—most have little or poor understanding on the timeframe or difficulty of the editorial process: from receiving and reviewing authors’ manuscripts to editing and rewriting them; from typesetting and printing them to marketing and promoting the promo copies to school teachers.
Situational Ethics Is a Constant
Since I joined educational publishing in the new millennium, the one thing that hasn’t changed over the one-and-half decades is the lack of ethical practices in the industry. Writers and authors, especially the new ones, continue to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous publishers. It looks like Singapore is stuck to remaining a third-class educational publishing industry in a first-class economy for some time.
While our students’ and teachers’ mathematical standards have risen over the last two decades (assuming we do have some faith in TIMSS and PISA scores), our unethical index in educational publishing has remained disturbingly constant, if not worsened, if the rising number of legal cases between authors and publishers would serve as some gauge in revealing the unethical climate permeating the educational publishing landscape in Singapore.
Redeem the time, because the days are evil. —Ephesians 5:16
© Yan Kow Cheong, April 10, 2015