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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.