Disputed Textbooks Approved for Texas Schools

Caroline Leal | WORLD News Service | Updated: Dec 01, 2014

Disputed Textbooks Approved for Texas Schools

The state where “everything’s bigger” just made a great big splash in the education world.

In a landmark vote influencing the future education of scores of Texas students, the Texas State Board of Education approved new social studies textbooks on Feb. 21 after adopting hundreds of pages in last-minute changes and edits. The disputed curriculum sets new standards for U.S. history and other social studies materials—including some 89 textbooks, workbooks, and other study resources—reflecting a more conservative tone than past materials. 

The 9-5 vote, divided along party lines, came after months of outcry from some critics who disagree with the curriculum’s approach to topics like climate change, Islam, and the influence of Moses on American democracy. All but the five Democrats on the 14-member board voted in favor of the new standards, with the five opponents accusing the Republican majority (primarily social conservatives) of giving too little focus to key minority figures in history and allowing their own religious and political agenda to shape the program. 

But Republicans call the standards a crucial advancement in social studies instruction for Texas schoolchildren. The need to counter the liberal bias currently present in school curriculum was of primary concern to the panel, members said, in response to complaints over their conservative views.

“I think we’ve corrected the imbalance we’ve had in the past and now have our curriculum headed straight down the middle,” Don McLeroy, one of seven social conservatives on the board, told The Dallas Morning News. “I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished.”

Others bristled. 

“The board has made these standards political and had little academic discussion about what students need to learn,” board member Mavis Knight, a Democrat, told The Dallas Morning News. “I am ashamed of what we have done to the students and teachers of this state.”

Submitted for approval this summer, the government, history, and social studies textbooks have been hotly disputed by academics and critics on both ends of the political spectrum. Corrections came in until the last minute, causing some board members to complain they didn’t have time to adequately review all the changes amidst the whirlwind of late amendments. 

One major publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, added to the controversy Friday morning by withdrawing a proposed high school textbook from consideration amid ongoing negotiations, saying in a statement the book was for a “national” program and failed to meet the entirety of the Texas standards. Materials offered by another publisher, Worldview Software, were later rejected by the board due to concerns over factual accuracy.

Friday’s vote not only impacted future textbooks and achievement tests in all Texas schools for the next decade, but also spotlighted the state’s role as a heavyweight gatekeeper in the textbook market. Texas standards often become the norm in other states, as national publishers generally cater their materials to the state of about five million students.

Strong points of contention over the new standards include Moses, Muslims, and the Common Core, a national set of curriculum standards in English and math forbidden by Texas law. Republicans previously worried classroom instruction downplayed the achievements of Ronald Reagan and took an overly sympathetic tone toward Islam. Those opposed to the new standards say they tout the free-market system too much and overplay the impact of Moses on the founding fathers.

For instance, the Old Testament figurehead and his impact on systems of law is now mentioned explicitly in Texas learning standards, alongside John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, and William Blackstone in a list of thinkers who influenced the founding fathers. “Moses was not a founding father. However, I believe he did influence our founding fathers,” Ken Mercer, a Republican board member, told NPR. 

Before Friday’s official approval, board members made many additional corrections, such as restoring Thomas Jefferson’s name to the list of political philosophers studied in world history and requiring U.S. history students to learn about leading conservative individuals and groups from the 1980s and 1990s. Board members also approved a stipulation encouraging high school students to question the legal doctrine of church-state separation.

Social conservative and board member Cynthia Dunbar described America as a “Christian land governed by Christian principles” in an invocation opening Friday’s board meeting. “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses,” she said.

Courtesy: WORLD News Service

Publication date: December 1, 2014

Disputed Textbooks Approved for Texas Schools