Bill in Alabama Would REquire Honesty and Decency in Texts
Montgomery, Ala--If the Alabama legislature approves two bills now before it, the state's students may see the equivalent of "book burnings," according to one opponent of the proposed legislation.
One bill would require that all classroom textbooks be written to include such "standards" as "honesty and respect for others" and "the existence of absolute values of right and wrong."
The second bill would enlarge the state textbook committee and permit Governor Fob James to name12 additional appointees. The committee decides which books the state board of education should approve for classroom use in all grades.
The Senate Education Committee has approved both bills.
Supporters of the measures, led by a northern Alabama couple, have received the backing of the state's Moral Majority spokesman, Stuart Gaines of Birmingham, and of Governor James. Both men testified before the Senate committee in favor of the bills.
Governor James would effectively gain control of the textbook committee if the bill to enlarge it passes, opponents alleged. The legislation calls for increasing the committee's membership from 16 to 28 persons.
The governor would appoint 14 members and the state education board would appoint 14. All would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Currently, the state board appoints 14 members and the governor appoints two. Senate confirmation is not required.
State Superintendent of Education Wayne Teague called the bill "unacceptable" because "it gives one person entirely too much appointing authority."
In addition, he said, the Senate would be "getting itself into the textbook-adoption business" if it confirmed all members of the committee. The state education department will try to have the bill amended to require any appointees who are not professional educators to have some knowledge of the subject matter and the books they will be reviewing, Mr. Teague added.
Paul Hubbert, who heads the Alabama Education Association, one of the state's most powerful lobbying groups, said he could think of no reason to change the committee's composition. The state board has already proven it is responsive to the requests of the few parents who have opposed textbooks in the past, he claimed.
Mr. Teague and Mr. Hubbert said the bill setting standards for textbooks is unclear. An amendment attached to the bill said the standards ''shall not include textbooks and other periodicals placed in a public school library for reference purposes."
Mr. Hubbert said that the amendment could result in the censorship of works of fiction that are currently housed in school libraries. If novels are placed under the bill's jurisdiction, even Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer would disappear from the shelves because it does not teach honesty or acceptance of responsibility, he claimed.
The standards bill would require all textbooks to contain "a balanced view of social issues" and to teach honesty, acceptance of responsibility, respect for individuals, parents, and authority, the importance of the work ethic, and the "existence of absolute values of right and wrong." Mr. Teague said he is concerned because social issues do not usually appear in math and science books but the bill could require their inclusion.
'Sadistic or Degrading' Behavior
Under the bill, the textbook committee would also be prohibited from approving books that "promote sadistic or degrading behavior" or that invade the privacy of students.
The opponents also claimed the standards would be impossible to implement.
Even the bill's sponsor, Senator Bobby Denton of Tuscumbia, said the privacy section may outlaw essays on "my summer vacation."
Mr. Denton is likely to encounter heavy opposition from the education community in working for the bill's passage. In addition to the Alabama teachers' union, the Alabama Association of School Boards and the Alabama Congress of Parents and Teachers are opposing both bills.
Mr. and Mrs. Leo Yambrek of Killen, Ala., who are leaders of the group supporting the bills, objected to 11 history books the current textbook committee recommended for approval in 1980. They also supported objections to six series of English textbooks in 1981.
Objections to the English textbooks also came from the two members of the textbook committee appointed by the governor. They filed a minority report claiming the books contained vulgar language, depicted excessive sex-role reversal, taught non-standard English, and taught evolution as fact instead of theory.
The state board removed two of the six series of English textbooks that were objected to last year, and in 1980 removed five of the 11 disputed history books.
Mr. Teague pointed to those actions to support his claim that the current system is working.
He added that textbook writers and publishers "will have to quit being so loose with the language" as more parents begin voicing their objections.