Texas schoolchildren will learn about African involvement in slavery, the contributions Hispanics made throughout state history, and a religiously correct time frame of glacial movement when newly adopted history and social studies textbooks hit classrooms next school year.
They will not, however, encounter some original textbook passages that emphasized positive aspects of Islam and Communism, or those that presented the problems of global warming and acid rain as undisputed fact.
As has been a long-standing tradition in the Lone Star State, the selection of history and social studies textbooks, which will be used in classrooms for the next seven years, fueled a vigorous debate over content details large and small. (“History Repeats Itself in Texas for Textbook-Review Process,” Aug. 7, 2002.) And in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 15 adoption by the state board of education, publishers anxious to tap the nearly $250 million the state has earmarked for texts in the subjects made hundreds of changes. Alterations came after board members, interest groups, and citizens highlighted what they saw as inaccuracies or bias.
The board approved dozens of textbooks for use in the state’s classrooms to teach history, civics, geography, and economics beginning in the 2003-04 school year. As the second- largest state to adopt textbooks behind California, Texas is bound to influence the choices offered to other states whenever it approves a list of textbooks that its districts can buy with state money.
Despite 1995 revisions to the state textbook law to curb the legendary sway outside groups have had on selections, the process had active participation from groups of various political stripes.
Texas Citizens for the Economy, an advocacy group, pushed for a greater emphasis on patriotism and on the benefits of capitalism and democracy. Advocacy groups representing Hispanics called for more sections highlighting Latino heroes.
The Texas Public Policy Forum, a research organization that promotes limited government, submitted an extensive review of textbooks undertaken by a group of scholars and educators it convened last summer. The review presented criticism along the ideological spectrum. It outlined, for example, the weaknesses of one text’s depiction of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, and faulted texts for the inadequate representation of Hispanic figures in Texas history.
Publishers, eager to remain competitive in the selection process, began making changes to their books without direction from the state board, as is required, setting off further protests.
The Texas Freedom Forum, a self-appointed watchdog of religious conservatives, launched a campaign against changes to proposed texts that the organization saw as promoting Christianity and censoring science. The group also contended that conservative activists were putting pressure on the publishers to make such alterations.
Despite the conflict, all but one of the board’s 14 members voted for the final adoption.
Dan Montgomery, the lone dissenter, who describes himself as a conservative, objected to the changes in publications that were accepted beyond the original deadline this past June. The board revised the textbook-adoption rules to move the deadline for final changes to this month.
The change in schedule left no time for the public or even board members to thoroughly review the changes, Mr. Montgomery said.
Moreover, Mr. Montgomery said, some of the revisions went beyond the board’s mandate to accept only changes of factual errors or those that better align the texts to state standards.
Out of Bounds?
“In some of the cases, I liked the changes,” he said, adding he nonetheless felt they went beyond the boundaries of what was allowed under the law. “They effectively found a loophole,” Mr. Montgomery said of other board members, “and they violated the intent of the legislature.”
But many people who spoke at three public hearings held in the months before the board’s vote argued that “errors of omission” should warrant changes. Some board members agreed.
Many of those who weighed in seem to have had an impact.
In lessons on the environment, for example, some critics objected to references to the damage to trees and waterways caused by acid rain and global warming as fact. The passages were changed in at least two texts to state only that some scientists believe that those phenomena have an impact on the environment.
On the issue of glacial movement, one publisher changed the reference of time from “millions of years” to “over time” to avoid conflicts with the biblical time span for creation.
An objection to statements that the Quran encourages honesty, giving, and love led the publisher to delete the passage.
In fact, publishers were making so many changes to their texts since the hearings began in June that state textbook officials could not keep up with them, said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. Finally, the agency asked publishers to submit written descriptions of the changes so officials could compile lists.
Despite the lengthy process and additional effort by publishers to make the books better, textbook critics are not likely to change their views on the quality of the products, according to Gilbert T. Sewall, the president of the American Textbook Council. The New York City-based organization reviews history and social studies texts.
“The overall quality of the textbooks is low, and the changes that have been made are minor and cosmetic,” said Mr. Sewall, who closely followed the Texas adoption.
Texas postponed its last-scheduled adoption in the subjects about five years ago, citing the lack of alignment the available textbooks had with the state’s academic standards. The decision was a blow to publishers, who had hoped for huge sales throughout the state.
But some observers had expressed optimism that the move would force publishers to improve the texts. Several studies over the past decade have pointed to the weaknesses in history textbooks, which critics say light up with colorful photos and other graphics, but do little to ignite students’ interest in the subject.
Those problems remain, Mr. Sewall said.
“Texas had the opportunity to demand better textbooks,” he said, “but chose instead to accept virtually everything the major publishers brought to the table.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as Texas Board Adopts Scores Of New Textbooks