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Editing Textbooks with a Conservative Bias

In case you missed this story over the weekend, the Texas Legislature has approved sweeping new changes to the content of textbooks used by schoolchildren there. And since Texas is the second largest market for textbooks in the nation and California likely won’t be ordering new editions of textbooks until 2014, these edits — which carry a significant conservative value bias at fact — will have far reaching impact on our nation’s schools.  Dare I say it, it’s an indoctrination of conservative values to our school kids.

From this story in Washington Monthly:

“Don McLeroy is a balding, paunchy man with a thick broom-handle mustache who lives in a rambling two-story brick home in a suburb near Bryan, Texas. When he greeted me at the door one evening last October, he was clutching a thin paperback with the skeleton of a seahorse on its cover, a primer on natural selection penned by famed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. We sat down at his dining table, which was piled high with three-ring binders, and his wife, Nancy, brought us ice water in cut-crystal glasses with matching coasters. Then McLeroy cracked the book open. The margins were littered with stars, exclamation points, and hundreds of yellow Post-its that were brimming with notes scrawled in a microscopic hand. With childlike glee, McLeroy flipped through the pages and explained what he saw as the gaping holes in Darwin’s theory. “I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say,” he declared at one point. “Evolution is hooey.” This bled into a rant about American history. “The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation,” McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. “But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”

Egad. Communism isn’t eliminated.  In fact, we’re in debt to the Communist Chinese up to our eyeballs for the economic policies pushed by Reagan, Bush I and Bush II.  Shouldn’t Bill Clinton get soe credit for the fabulous economic fortunes of the late 90s where we ran budget surpluses and paid down our debt? For McLeroy, the Scopes Monkey Trial was “wrongly decided.”

There’s more:

When the process began last January, the Texas Education Agency assembled a team to tackle each grade. In the case of eleventh-grade U.S. history, the group was made up of classroom teachers and history professors—that is, until McLeroy added a man named Bill Ames. Ames—a volunteer with the ultra- conservative Eagle Forum and Minuteman militia member who occasionally publishes angry screeds accusing “illegal immigrant aliens” of infesting America with diseases or blasting the “environmentalist agenda to destroy America”—pushed to infuse the standards with his right-wing views and even managed to add a line requiring books to give space to conservative icons, “such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority,” without any liberal counterweight. But for the most part, the teachers on the team refused to go along. So Ames put in a call to McLeroy, who demanded to see draft standards for every grade and then handed them over to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank founded by his benefactor, James Leininger. The group combed through the papers and compiled a list of seemingly damning omissions. Among other things, its analysts claimed that the writing teams had stripped out key historical figures like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Pat Hardy, a Republican board member who has sat in on some of the writing-team meetings, insists this isn’t true. “No one was trying to remove George Washington!” she says. “That group took very preliminary, unfinished documents and drew all kinds of wrongheaded conclusions.”

Nevertheless, the allegations drummed up public outrage, and in April the board voted to stop the writing teams’ work and bring in a panel of experts to guide the process going forward—“expert,” in this case, meaning any person on whom two board members could agree. In keeping with the makeup of the board, three of the six people appointed were right-wing ideologues, among them Peter Marshall, a Massachusetts-based preacher who has argued that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were God’s punishment for tolerating gays, and David Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Both men are self-styled historians with no relevant academic training—Barton’s only credential is a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University—who argue that the wall of separation between church and state is a myth.

Opinions from conservative pundits on this issue are downright scary.  I think they are entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.

It’s entirely possible that figures like Caesar Chevz will be omitted from textbooks entirely while Newt Gingrich gets a spot for the “Contract with America.”

From the News Junkie Post blog:

“The United Farm Workers of America — the union that Chavez and Dolores Huerta helped found in 1962 — is leading the fight to stop the Texas School Board from banning Chavez. According to UFWA, Gail Lowe, the chair of the board who happens to be an outspoken creationist, has said that:  (Cesar Chavez) “lacks the stature…and contributions” and should not “be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation.”

But Chavez is not the only historical figure possibly being banned from Texas textbooks, the UFWA is informing its members that Lowe is also attempting to remove Irma Rangel, the first Hispanic woman elected to the state Legislature. 

So what’s the excuse that the Texas Board of Education is coming up with to justify such actions? The UFWA says that board members and their appointees have complained about an “over representation of minorities” in the current social studies standards. You see, two Latino historical figures are just too many.

Governor Rick Perry is standing by Lowe on this one, after all he appointed her. Republicans don’t see it in their best interest to teach children about civil rights figures who could inspire black or brown people. The tactics used by Chavez like fasting and civil disobedience, which were taught by Ghandi and used also by Martin Luther King Jr. could give children ideas. But really, are the Republicans that scared? Obviously, yes. The last thing they want is to have a whole new generation of children who will grow up to stand up for their rights, hold vigils and organize boycotts.

The Washington Post reports that changes proposed to the Texas Social Studies textbooks are not historically accurate.

From the story: “The curriculum downplays the role of Thomas Jefferson among the founding fathers, questions the separation of church and state and says that the U.S. government was infiltrated by communists during the Cold War.

Because the Texas textbook market is so large, books assigned to the state’s 4.7 million students often rocket to the top of the market, decreasing costs for other school districts and leading them to buy the same materials.

“The books that are altered to fit the standards become the best-selling books, and therefore within the next two years they’ll end up in other classrooms,” said Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education, a group devoted to history teaching at the pre-college level. “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a good history issue.”

The New York Times cited the partisan line vote on the new standards.  From their story: ”

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Battles over what to put in science and history books have taken place for years in the 20 states where state boards must adopt textbooks, most notably in California and Texas. But rarely in recent history has a group of conservative board members left such a mark on a social studies curriculum.

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change

By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
Published: March 12, 2010

AUSTIN, Tex. — After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

Jack Plunkett/Associated Press

Mary Helen Berlanga accused fellow members of the Board of Education of “rewriting history.”

The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it.

The board, whose members are elected, has influence beyond Texas because the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. In the digital age, however, that influence has diminished as technological advances have made it possible for publishers to tailor books to individual states.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a panel of teachers.

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Battles over what to put in science and history books have taken place for years in the 20 states where state boards must adopt textbooks, most notably in California and Texas. But rarely in recent history has a group of conservative board members left such a mark on a social studies curriculum.

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

The curriculum standards will now be published in a state register, opening them up for 30 days of public comment. A final vote will be taken in May, but given the Republican dominance of the board, it is unlikely that many changes will be made.

The standards, reviewed every decade, serve as a template for textbook publishers, who must come before the board next year with drafts of their books. The board’s makeup will have changed by then because Dr. McLeroy lost in a primary this month to a more moderate Republican, and two others — one Democrat and one conservative Republican — announced they were not seeking re-election.

There are seven members of the conservative bloc on the board, but they are often joined by one of the other three Republicans on crucial votes. There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

In the field of sociology, another conservative member, Barbara Cargill, won passage of an amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.

“The topic of sociology tends to blame society for everything,” Ms. Cargill said.

Even the course on world history did not escape the board’s scalpel.

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

“The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.

All isn’t lost here. Textbook publishers do have the ability to publish state by state textbooks if need be. But the notion that historical fact can be revised or erased on a partisan vote should scare the hell out of you. Especially if you have kids in public schools.