Texas Board May Hear Dissent In Textbook-Selection Process
The procession of Texas citizens who come to Austin every year to register complaints against textbooks may be joined in the future by people given equal time to defend the books from attack.
This year, for the first time, the Texas State Board of Education allowed two groups to file written responses to the complaints of some book protesters, although neither group was allowed to offer verbal testimony before the textbook adoption committee or the state board of education.
And last week, State Senator Ray Farabee filed a bill, in advance of the January 1983 legislative session, that would change the state's textbook adoption procedure to allow individual citizens to testify in support of particular textbooks, and to offer defense of textbooks that have come under attack.
As the system works now, Texas citizens can file complaints against any textbook being considered for statewide use, but no individual can testify in support of books. The state allows only publishing companies to file written responses to complaints.
Beginning in July, Texas will be the largest state with a book-adoption process. It is estimated that this year the state will spend $60 million on textbooks, including $38 million on newly adopted books.
Until recently, California--the largest purchaser of textbooks in the country--had such procedures for elementary-school purchasing by districts. But Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. recently signed legislation, to go into effect July 1, that will allow districts to order elementary-school textbooks directly from the publisher. California high schools already have this option.
A number of publishers and observers of the selection process believe that Texas, with its huge buying power and alleged ability to "make or break" textbook series, influences what publishers offer nationwide. Even those who view the state's power as much more limited confirm that the views of Texans about textbooks are taken seriously within the publishing industry.
Every year, as part of the state's months-long selection process, groups ranging from the National Organization for Women to the Daughters of the American Revolution register complaints against textbooks in certain of the subjects being reviewed that year.
The most famous "book protesters" are Mel and Norma Gabler of Longview, who come to the hearings each year to protest material that they think is biased toward evolution or unduly critical of the United States.
Senator Farabee's proposal is "a delightful surprise," said Barbara B. Parker, director of the National Schools and Libraries Project of People for the American Way, an organization founded by the television producer Norman Lear to work against the influence of the "New Right," and one of the two organizations allowed to file written counter-complaints this year.
The group had approached some state legislators, hoping to get a sponsor for such a bill, but Mr. Farabee was not one of them.
"Our organization wants to see the process opened to allow positive citizen reaction to books that are up for adoption," Ms. Parker said. "And we want to be allowed to respond to book protesters."
Currently, 21 states--most of them in the West and South--have some procedure for statewide adoption of textbooks, said Ms. Parker.
People for the American Way concentrated first on Texas, Ms. Parker said, because of the "economic influence" the state's selections can have on publishers throughout the country.
The process begins each winter when the Texas Board of Education announces the subjects and grades for which textbooks will be chosen that year.
The state issues an annual "textbook proclamation" outlining required content for publishers.
Once books are selected in a subject they are used for six to eight years.
After receiving the guidelines, publishers file copies of textbooks for public review in 20 centers throughout the state.
Citizens Register Complaints
In addition to filing written complaints, citizens gather every year to register oral complaints before the state textbook committee--a 15-member committee made up of teachers who serve one-year terms.
Publishers are then allowed to file written responses to the complaints, and the entire record is distributed to the textbook committee prior to its August public hearings.
This year, the record of the hearing ran to more than 2,000 pages in 10 volumes.
In September, the committee narrowed the field to no more than five books in each subject area. The Texas Education Agency reviewed the texts, and the state board of education met this month to make its final recommendations.
This year, books chosen for subjects included English as a second language, vocal music, health education, homemaking, civics, mathematics, world geography, marine science, personal finance, German, accounting, and physiology and anatomy, said Grace S. Grimes, a deputy commissioner in the Texas Education Agency.
And this year, in a move that one observer of the selection process said was "uncommon but not unheard of," the state board of education postponed final adoption of textbooks in two categories until at least January.
Approval of health-education books was postponed, Ms. Grimes said, because they "generally didn't include enough information about negative effects of drugs," information required by the state textbook proclamation.
The state board has told publishers they have until Dec. 1 to rewrite chapters on drug education in a way that fits state specifications. Following review by the public, the textbook committee, and the state commissioner of education, the state board will consider the altered health books on Jan. 8.
Adoption of civics texts has also been delayed because of a disagreement among state board members that began with the state-board chairman's concern that there was insufficient quotation in one of them from certain historical documents.
Michael A. Hudson, Texas coordinator of People for the American Way, said the delay in civics textbooks illustrates one flaw in the system. "Civics books went through the whole six-month process," he said. ''Then at the state board meeting the chairman pulls out this extensive criticism of one book [McGraw-Hill's Civics and Society] for not having excerpts from certain documents like the Mayflower Compact and Magna Carta."