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Politics and Prose

The high-stakes process of picking textbooks for public K-12 schools in Texas is taking its toll.

Two publishers have pulled texts from consideration rather than lock horns with the state board of education over material that some board members found objectionable.

Most recently, McDougal Littell Inc., a division of the Boston- based Houghton Mifflin Co., yanked a 306-page first-edition book for Advanced Placement students titled Practicing Texas Politics. It was a supplement to the company's American Government offering.

Some board members took issue with sections of the text that were critical of the board. In particular, they challenged the accuracy of entries that took aim at the most socially conservative members of the 15-member board and labeled the board "a major embarrassment" to the state Republican Party and to then-Gov. George W. Bush. The text also cited the board's alleged mishandling of the state's $17.4 billion Permanent School Fund.

Though board member Dan Montgomery denies the book's contention that Republican operatives recruited him as a moderate alternative to a more conservative board member, he believes that the text wasn't as bad as some made it out to be.

"A couple of our members really threw a fit about it," Mr. Montgomery, a Republican, said. "In fact, it's a pretty good book on Texas politics."

Collin Earnst, a spokesman for McDougal Littell, which is based in Evanston, Ill., said the book mainly consists of articles, and other writings on Texas politics.

"It was to help young people see different perspectives," he said. "It was not to support one side, but to show different sides."

In another effort to dodge controversy, publisher Pearson Prentice Hall in Upper Saddle River, N.J., pulled a history textbook earlier this year after Texas board President Grace Shore protested that the high school book's section on prostitution in the early West was inappropriate.

The board is reviewing some 250 social studies and history textbooks. It is set to vote Nov. 15 on the list of books from which districts can select to purchase with state money. The lucrative Texas selections influence textbook choices in other states as well.

"Publishers want to sell books and turn a profit and stay out of newspapers," Mr. Montgomery said. "When they hear something that gets them in trouble, they pull out."

—Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 22, Issue 2, Page 18

Published in Print: September 11, 2002, as State Journal

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