Social-Studies Texts Face Renewed Challenge in L.A. Vote
Four months after becoming one of only two series to emerge from a tough round of state textbook adoptions in California, the Houghton ifflin Company's new K-8 social-studies texts are facing yet another hurdle: the Los Angeles school board.
The board was scheduled to vote this week on whether to allow individual schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to buy the books. Such action represents a departure from the district's usual practice of automatically allowing schools to decide for themselves whether to buy state-approved texts.
At hearings late last month, representatives from a wide range of ethnic and religious groups came out to protest the books, claiming they omitted important information about their groups, contained inaccuracies, or were biased against them.
"I haven't seen a set of textbooks that has generated as much opposition from such a diverse group of well-recognized people and organizations in years," said Rita Walters, a school-board member opposing the books. The local debate over the books echoes the controversy that dogged the series last year as state school officials weighed whether to adopt the texts. (See Education Week, Oct. 24, 1990.)
The state school board's unanimous decision to approve the books received national attention because California controls an estimated 11 percent of the nation's textbook market. The books were the first approved under a new curriculum-4framework for teaching history and social studies that departs significantly from the way those subjects are taught elsewhere.
Four other states--Arkansas, Indiana, Oregon, and West Virginia--have since approved the textbooks, according to Houghton Mifflin.
Officials at both the state and district levels have praised the books as compelling reading replete with the perspectives of diverse racial, cultural, and religious groups.
Even protesters have acknowledged that the books are an improvement over the bland social-studies texts now being used. They also concede that the company has already made revisions to address some of their concerns. But, they say, more changes are needed.
"People understood that the [text books] we had were inadequate, so they went out and got other resources--hopefully," Ms. Walters said last week. "What concerns me about [the new state-approved books] is they are being touted as the last word in textbook resources."
Ms. Walters has objected to the books' portrayals of African Americans.
Representatives of the Muslim, Jewish, Hispanic, and Asian- American communities of Los An gles have also criticized the series.
One difficulty is that the books are the first in the state in years to broach the sensitive subject of religion.
"There's a fine line between teach ing religion and teaching about reli gion," said Annette Lawrence, director of public education for the Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles. She said the 6th-grade textbook may cross that line by what she sees as a less critical treatment of Christianity than of Judaism, and the use of exam ples that she says have stirred up anti-Semitism in the past.
Elsewhere in the state, 150 schools and school districts have already placed orders for the books, ac cording to the publisher. California law permits districts to spend state funds only on state-approved books.
The Berkeley and Oakland school districts, which had earlier rejected the books, are now reconsidering those decisions.
The Los Angeles school board's, vote is considered crucial because of the district's size and culturally di verse student enrollment.
Board members are expected to take Houghton Mifflin up on an of fer to supplement the books with ad ditional materials and inservice training and again leave book-buying decisions to individual schools, according to Jackie Goldberg, the school-board president.
"It's tough," she said. "Do you tell a publishing company that has made a significant investment to go back and do it better, and then hope that they do and not write it off as a loss?"