Texas has another battle over textbooks

Nov 25, 2014

Texas is no stranger to controversy in the classroom. Throughout modern history, battles over what is taught in science and history classrooms have been commonplace in the South. For one, more conservative ideals generally hold sway in the region, and are usually at odds with the liberal bias of teachers and administrators in science and schools.

The battle is typically fought over religion and morals. While the U.S. is often considered a Christian nation, rates of defection amongst church members continue to creep upward. At the same time, those identifying as atheist, agnostic, and/or of some other religious affiliation are becoming slightly larger segments of the population.

Next fall, as a result of long and heated discussions amongst the state’s Board of Education, 89 new textbooks and software packages intended for teaching will hit the state’s schools. These materials, which will be shown to the states roughly five million students, are already stirring up some trouble with academics.

Among some of the questionable sticking points in the textbooks is the assertion that Moses – a biblical figure – had a large influence on the thought of the founding fathers, and thus by extension the U.S. government structure and constitution. Another problem was the portrayal of Muslims, with some arguing it was too sympathetic and others saying that the final version was degrading or inaccurate. It is unclear exactly what was said about Muslims and what caused people to come to those conclusions.

It is perhaps this very uncertainty of content that is causing the biggest uproar, however, with some calling the way in which textbooks are assigned to the Texas curriculum “a sham.” Apparently, last minute revisions were made as publishers were coerced into including or redacting certain information. With a lucrative contract on the line, many publishers may have been inclined to acquiesce regardless of the historical accuracy. When some of these changes were made, a vote that would have given more time for board members and for the public to review the changes was denied, and the books were moved into approval.

When some of the edits had to do with such previously hotly debated topics, some say that the vote closed out the very public whose children would be educated with the new books from having a voice or participating at all. In their defense, lawmakers have stated that making textbooks that satisfy everyone isn’t just difficult, it’s impossible.

One Republican lawmaker, Geraldine Miller, said that the decision was also a message to textbook publishers fighting for government wide contracts: If you’re unwilling to make timely edits, you’re unlikely to end up with the job. This sentiment may satisfy the review process, but it’s far from making everyone happy. Already, some academics have called for a re-evaluation of the textbook choosing process, and that this most recent decision should be examined more closely before heading to print for hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies. There’s a definite danger, many warn, in teaching textbooks to children that portray what many view as logical fallacies. Another problem, they say, is lawmakers with political, personal, and even religious agendas being put in charge of the process rather than professors and other qualified faculty in the subject areas. Of course, the liberal bias of professors and faculty also poses a risk when it comes to the historical accuracy of textbooks. As such, it is pretty much guaranteed that Texas will remain a battleground for textbooks for many years to come.