Texas Tears Up Textbooks

Texas is in the throes of rewriting the curriculum standards for its K-12 textbooks. And that is something to be very, very worried about.

It’s no secret that the Lone Star State enjoys tremendous influence on textbooks nationwide. Texas has the second-largest textbook market in the country, after California, and uses a highly centralized way of buying those books. Publishers don’t like costly multiple editions. So textbooks written to please Texas often become national prototypes.

For decades, the big noise in Texas textbook adoption usually came a small-town couple named the Gablers. Mel and Norma Gabler turned themselves into the most powerful book censors in the country. Each year, they appeared before the State Board of Education and methodically, line-by-line attacked any passage that–in their view–undermined patriotism, morality, conservative Christianity, free enterprise, or parental authority.

Among other things, the Gablers successfully opposed the teaching of the Robin Hood story (which sanctioned stealing and redistributing wealth) and an Edgar Allen Poe story (which was too violent). They also got publishers to define marriage as a lifelong union between a man and woman. And they repeatedly attacked any science book that promoted evolution.

After influencing U.S. education for four decades, the Gablers died earlier this decade. But the movement they started has grown and mutated. Instead of trying to influence events from the outside, conservative Christians have now won election to seven seats on the 15-member Board of Education. By voting as a bloc, they can usually approve or shoot down any measure.

Last week, the board debated and amended draft curriculum standards for K-8 social studies and high school U.S. history. According to the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, these are a few of the proposed changes:

  • Board members removed a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights. This was replaced by vague language about “various groups.”
  •  Board members accepted an amendment that will require a more positive portrayal of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the smear tactics he used in the 1950s.
  •  And the board adopted standards that promote conservative figures and groups such as Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority while pointedly leaving out progressive political figures like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

That’s just the stuff the board passed. The conservative bloc also came within a whisker of some breathtaking absurdities, like leaving hip-hop music off the list of arts movements that high schoolers can study.

But this process isn’t done. Board members postponed work on the rest of the standards—which include subjects like high school social studies and geography—until March 10-12. And one standard the board is still eyeing says that the civil rights movement created “unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes." Final votes will be held May 19-21.

Progressive people need to follow the Gablers’ example: Make some noise. Those in Texas should contact school board members and the state legislators who oversee the board. They should also ask to speak before the board about the new standards. (This link does not yet include the most recent changes). Educators who live outside the state—especially those with advanced degrees—can have a direct impact by commenting on the standards at sboeteks@tea.state.tx.us.

The conservative bloc on the Board of Education can only be successful in the vacuum created by people’s apathy or inattention. It’s time to clarify the issues for them.


Despite your best efforts,

Submitted by Anonymous on 24 January 2010 - 8:04pm.

Despite your best efforts, Texans still have morals and a sense of duty to the next generation.

Your anonymity does not do

Submitted by Lisa Mann on 16 March 2010 - 6:16pm.

Your anonymity does not do much to impress us with your firm belief in your "morals."

As a current student and

Submitted by Anonymous on 31 January 2010 - 2:55pm.

As a current student and future educator, I feel that a clear view of the past is one of the most valuable tools educators can provide the next generation. Students respect honesty and should be allowed to revel in the chance to form their own opinions about the world based on facts. Unfortunately, if the facts are skewed, if the information is presented through a foggy lense, if stubborn elders only dicsuss tainted views and biased opions, then our society has yet to progress from the indoctrination-based tactics of the Napoleonic era. If this is what Texas elects as the most "moral" option, I hope that it will enjoy the upcoming generation of like-minded drones. What a shame.

This should make us very,

Submitted by OK Educator on 21 January 2010 - 11:09pm.

This should make us very, very worried? I'm less worried after reading this article. God Bless Texas!

Yes, this should cause one to

Submitted by Anonymous on 25 January 2010 - 3:32pm.

Yes, this should cause one to feel worried. As my understanding of this article goes, the nature of the preferred curriculum in Texas is distorted and biased. If this is to influence children, then yes, this should make one feel worried. I strongly believe that education's role is to cause one to think---to plant a seed, if you will---not to tell one what is appropriate and inappropriate to think. That's just plain wrong.

The important thing to

Submitted by Katie on 11 March 2010 - 1:18pm.

The important thing to realize that every piece of curriculum is going to be biased in some form or fashion. When teaching the American Revolution, very seldom do teachers take the approach that our ancestors were radicals and willing to harm fellow colonists who did not want to break away. I don't think there is any promise that curriculum will ever be completely unbiased because there will always be educators as well as parents that are weary of what they put in front of the children. The idea, of saying it is the educators role to cause children to think rather than to plant a seed is ludicrous for the main flaw that children can learn traits and even the opinions of their teachers even if the curriculum states things in a different manner. Even if the curriculum is biased, the teacher can be as well, by implanting their own opinions through mannerisms.

Regardless of what is in the

Submitted by Xan on 31 January 2010 - 3:41pm.

Regardless of what is in the textbook, it is the responsibility of good teacher to include materials that best fits both the demographics and interests of their classroom. Students are not engaged in material that is not relevant to them and their interests!

As a Jewish child, I only saw

Submitted by Laura R. on 21 January 2010 - 2:27pm.

As a Jewish child, I only saw myself in textbooks in ancient history, immigration chapters, or about the Holocaust. It wasn't until years later, teaching, that new textbooks in my curriculum included my ancestors in other areas of history, and it was thrilling! I spent a lot of high school arguing with teachers who didn't want to discuss "certain" topics in history class - it bothered myself and my friends that events like the internment of Japanese-Americans and the struggles of many minorities were rarely mentioned or left out altogether. Some of the decisions in Texas are terrifying; I recognize that we can't include everything in the whole history of the world, but do we want our children growing up with incorrect information and outright lies? My grandfather dealt with McCarthy and his crew - I shudder to think of kids getting a "positive spin" on the Red Scare.

We just did a unit over the

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 February 2010 - 4:19pm.

We just did a unit over the Holocaust and I brought up the Japanese internment camps and most of my 7 - 12 graders had never heard of them. It gave us a great opportunity to learn about them and have some very good discussions about the topic as a whole. I was very proud of my students for really going deep with this topic.