Houston RR Group Says Supporters of Equal Rights Ordinance Are ‘Enemies of God’

The leaders of the venomously anti-gay Houston Area Pastor Council want to make something perfectly clear: if you disagree with them, then you are an enemy of God.

In an email to supporters last week promoting another pro-discrimination public event, the HAPC explained why it wants to repeal Houston’s new Equal Rights Ordinance. HERO bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, military status and other characteristics. But HAPC’s leaders think equality is anti-God:

Houston is being closely observed across the nation because of our boldness and unfaltering resilience in facing the enemies of our God to restore justice and Godly morals in government! Remember, we are fighting this ordinance because we collectively failed to elect a mayor and council majority who respect God’s law or even have a guiding moral compass. Never again on our watch…!

The anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people really have the folks at HAPC upset. But don’t forget that at least some of them think discriminating against anyone — including Jews — in public life should be legal if it’s done for personal religious reasons.

Posted in civil and equal rights, Houston Area Pastor Council, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, LGBT issues, TFNEF | 4 Comments

The Week in Quotes (Sept. 14 – 20)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

continue reading »

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More about the Anti-Science Nonsense in New Textbooks for Texas

As we reported on Monday, a National Center for Science Education review finds that a number of proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools promote climate science denialism. One geography textbook, from publisher McGraw-Hill, even includes a passage written by political hacks at the polluter-funded Heartland Institute — the right-wing organization that a few years ago launched an infamous billboard campaign that featured “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski supposedly claiming: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

The McGraw-Hill textbook passage, written by Heartland’s Joseph Bast and James M. Taylor, also attacks the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that climate change is a real and growing threat. The textbook irresponsibly uses that factually inaccurate passage as a counterpoint to a paragraph from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

So who are Bast and Taylor?

Taylor is a senior fellow for Heartland and serves as managing editor of the organization’s Environment and Climate News publication.  He is also a spokesperson on a variety of media outlets and at events held by political groups like the similarly right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. And he writes a regular column on “energy and environmental issues” for Forbes magazine.

But Taylor isn’t a scientist. He’s a lawyer. His Heartland bio says he “studied atmospheric science” but majored in government in college. So what does “studied atmospheric science” mean? He took a class in the subject? Who knows? The point is that Taylor is simply not a credible authority on science. But McGraw-Hill essentially portrays him as a climate science expert in a textbook for millions of public school students.

Just as bad (maybe worse) is that the McGraw-Hill textbook portrays Bast in the same light. Bast is Heartlands’s president and CEO. You might recall that he testified last year in a major school finance court case in Texas. Check out state District Judge John Dietz’s scathing criticism of Bast in his ruling in that finance case last month:

Mr. Joseph Bast, president and CEO of the Heartland Institute, testified for the Intervenors regarding the Texas Taxpayers’ Savings Grant Programs (“TTSGP”), a school voucher bill that failed in the 82nd Legislative Session. As a threshold matter, this Court finds that Mr. Bast is not a credible witness and that he did not offer reliable opinions in this matter. While Mr. Bast described himself as an economist, he holds neither undergraduate nor graduate degrees in economics, and the highest level of education he completed was high school. Mr. Bast testified that he is 100% committed to the long-term goal of getting government out of the business of educating its own voting citizens. Further, his use of inflammatory and irresponsible language regarding global warming, and his admission that the long term goal of his advocacy of vouchers is to dismantle the “socialist” public education system further undermine his credibility with this Court.

You read that right. The highest level of education Bast completed was high school. He is not a scientist. Nor is he an economist. He’s a political hack who, like Taylor, shills for polluters who claim climate change either isn’t happening or isn’t a problem. But now his and Taylor’s factually inaccurate criticisms of climate science are presented in a high school social studies textbook alongside the IPCC’s factual information.

Had enough of publishers bowing to the ideological demands of politicians on the State Board of EducationSign our petition telling publishers to remove climate science denial from their textbooks.

Posted in climate change, Heartland Institute, James M. Taylor, Joseph Bast, TFNEF | 4 Comments

What a Politicized Texas History Textbook Looks Like

On Tuesday a number of university scholars spoke out at a State Board of Education (SBOE) public hearing on proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools. Among those scholars was Dr. Jacqueline Jones, chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin. She was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History this year for her book A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America. Dr. Jones focused her hearing testimony on one of the textbooks submitted by publisher Pearson Education. Her testimony, which we are posting here with her permission, is an excellent commentary on how the state’s deeply flawed curriculum standards (adopted by the SBOE in 2010) and textbooks based on those standards distort American history and promote ideological biases rather than sound scholarship.

My name is Jacqueline Jones. I am a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, where I chair the history department. I received my PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My fields of expertise include the history of modern America, the Civil War, the South, and the labor of African Americans and women. Between 2011 and 2014, I taught more than 1,000 UT students in the second half of the introductory American history survey (“The U. S. Since 1865”—HIS 315L). I speak here today representing only myself.

My comments will focus on the Pearson text, United States History: 1877 to the Present. I believe this text adheres closely to the TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum] standards, and thus provides a good indication of the way those standards shape teaching materials for public school students here in Texas. Simply put, those standards are deleterious to the teaching of history in several ways: First, TEKS standards encourage ideological biases that are either outside the boundaries of established, mainstream scholarship, or just plain wrong. Second, these biases lead to the omission of crucial facts. And third, the standards mandate the highlighting of certain arguments that the evidence in the text in fact refutes, leading to a great deal of confusion in the reader. This is especially the case with the standards that promote the significance of the American free enterprise system.

Before I begin however I would like to say a word about the way this text is organized. Pearson is of course a powerhouse textbook publisher, and this offering is visually stunning, full of videos and colorful images. It showcases a variety of online bells and whistles that seem to have been developed with the short attention span of the American teenager in mind. Each chapter, or “topic,” includes a series of “lessons” (usually six or seven to each “topic”) divided further by several “texts,” as well as an interactive reading notepad, editable presentations, videos, maps, core concepts, and a glossary. The “Celebrate Freedom” section, which includes documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, could have been considerably strengthened, and rendered more accurate, had it included the voices of various groups who celebrated freedom by working for a full and inclusive American citizenship.

The individual “texts,” which consist of five to nine slides and each take a couple of minutes to read, are the meat of this textbook. Unfortunately, for the historian, this fragmented approach hinders rather than advances the reader’s understanding of history. Students can—and are probably encouraged to—read the texts in any order they choose. And by organizing information in tight “silos,” the authors fail to show that history is in fact a story, with interweaving themes, and not pieces of discrete information to be committed to memory. And so Topic 5, The Great Depression, Lesson 2, text 2 (“Rural America Struggles with Poverty”), mentions the plight of farmers in the Dust Bowl, the Midwest, and California, but says nothing at all about the collapse of the sharecropping system in the Deep South, a major development during the 1930s. To find information on sharecroppers one must click on text 3, “Hard Times Hit Most Americans.” Again, this organization strikes me as piecemeal as best; it does not allow readers to understand the way that various themes connect with each other to form a coherent whole. Instead, the reader is presented with small, incomplete pieces of history standing alone.

In line with the TEKS standards, this particular textbook includes overtly ideological material that distorts the true story about this nation’s past. Rather than let students evaluate the evidence and formulate their own opinions, the text offers subjective judgments that seem to foreclose all debate. In a so-called interactive chart called “Reagan’s Leadership,” we learn that the president throughout his tenure demonstrated exemplary communication skills and problem solving, as well as courage, decisiveness, dependability and integrity.

Driven by ideological bias, questionable statements and assumptions abound in this text. It is hard to justify the claim that “The minimum wage remains one of the New Deal’s most controversial legacies.” Certainly people today debate the wisdom of raising the minimum wage, but the Aid to Dependent Children program (“welfare”) was much more contentious, to the extent that it—but not the minimum wage—was abolished in subsequent legislation. The section “Opposition to the New Deal” focuses only on FDR’s court-packing plan and his conservative critics, telling the student nothing about the vibrant Left composed of a variety of groups that believed the New Deal did not go far enough in eliminating the structural weaknesses and inequities in the American economy.

Moreover, throughout the text the authors seem determined to shield impressionable students from some of the unpleasant facts of our history. Thus Governor George Wallace’s attempt to block school integration, and his persistent glorification of white supremacy, is reduced to the statement that he represented “Southern voters who were unsettled by the cultural and social changes in the country,” making it sound as if he was appealing to those who did not like the Beatles’ music or their haircuts. The text also makes blatant insinuations that cannot be supported by the facts. Thus, the ferment of the 1960s, when women, blacks, and gays claimed their right to full American citizenship, is characterized as a time when young people “took a step away from the worldview of their parents,” a worldview that, we learn, “valued loyalty and authority and respected the military and veterans.” The authors also claim in the late 1960s, “Against a background of anti-war demonstrations, political assassinations kept the nation on edge,” implying (wrongly) that the assassins of King, Robert Kennedy, and Malcom X were motivated by some sort of anti-Vietnam War stance.

However, it is the relentless glorification of the free enterprise system that will probably cause the most confusion among students. The authors claim that the U. S. has close to a “pure,” market economy (Topic 1, Lesson 1, Economics Core Concepts), one that contrasts with a socialist “mixed economy.” Considering the skepticism with which the authors discuss governmental programs of any kind—they are invariably portrayed as misguided, inefficient, too costly, or damaging to individual freedoms—the student might reasonably expect to see an extended discussion of a market guided by an invisible hand of supply and demand, unfettered by the “meddling” of the government. Instead, the text is replete with examples of the way that government initiatives promoted the interests of business in material ways. Land subsidies and tax breaks gave a boost to private railroad companies. Tariffs protected American businesses from foreign competition. Laws governing corporations protected reckless and willfully negligent companies from the suits of consumers. And government programs also served to shape businesses in progressive ways—by enforcing health and safety regulations in the workplace, and passing clean air and water legislation. The relation between free enterprise and laissez faire remains unclear throughout.

We do our students a disservice when we scrub history clean of unpleasant truths, and when we present an inaccurate view of the past that promotes a simple-minded, ideologically driven point of view. Our young people are not so naïve; they look around and see a complex, highly partisan American political system and a dangerous world. Unless we enable them to understand the historical roots of the here and now—and those roots are admittedly tangled and messy—we cannot prepare them to be informed, engaged citizens of the United States. And college faculty will see a generation of students ill-prepared for the rigors of the history classroom, students who have never been taught how to think historically, or to think for themselves.

Textbooks adopted by the SBOE in November could be in classrooms for up to a decade. Scholars who reviewed the textbooks for the TFN Education Fund also identified serious problems with bias and inaccurate history. The textbooks are available for review online. Don’t forget to sign the petition calling for the State Board of Education to adopt textbooks that offer an honest, accurate portrayal of history.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 12 Comments

Live-Blogging the Texas Social Studies Textbooks Public Hearing

You can watch today’s public hearing at the State Board of Education live online here.

3:50 – The board hearing just ended. Board members will discuss the textbooks tomorrow (Wednesday). We’ll be here.

3:47 – Cargill and other board members keep arguing that nothing can be done about the flawed curriculum standards adopted in 2010. So in their view, the flawed textbooks get a free pass because the flawed standards they are based on are already on the books. Huh?

3:43 – Patty Quinzi from the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, compliments TFN for asking respected scholars to review the proposed textbooks. We appreciate that. It’s too bad state board members didn’t ensure that more than a tiny handful of university scholars served on the official state review teams.

3:38 – Emile Lester, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington who reviewed proposed government textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, is up. As he does in his report for us, Lester expresses concerns about how textbooks exaggerate religious influences — especially Moses — on the American founding and the Constitution. No one challenges his points.

3:17 – Zach Kopplin, a science advocate and member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, offers even more criticism of textbooks that would teach students that Moses influenced our nation’s constitutional structure. He also knocks the climate change denialism in the textbooks.

3:00 – Charles Jackson, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, criticizes inaccurate textbook coverage casting doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a serious and growing threat.

2:55 – Saenz (with support from board members like Mercer) insists that TFN wants textbook to ignore the opinions of folks who oppose separation of church and state. No, we simply want textbooks to tell students the truth: that separation of church and state is a foundational, constitutional principle recognized by our nation’s founders and the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of the textbooks, as written, simply don’t do so.

2:45 – Board member Mercer declares that publishers have a responsibility to the state board, not to anyone else — including, apparently, citizens, scholars and organizations with concerns after reviewing the new textbooks. Now we have a running conversation between Mercer and Saenz about how terrible it is for TFN to have asked scholars to weigh in on the adoption process.

2:39 – Saenz’s argument in short: TFN is wrong because we didn’t have enough votes in 2010 to keep the board from vandalizing the curriculum standards and inserting historically inaccurate requirements in those standards.

2:31 – Jonathan Saenz, the attorney lobbyist who heads up the far-right group Texas Values, is up to speak. Saenz decides to spend his two minutes attacking TFN and our scholars’ reviews of the textbooks. Says he doesn’t want to see publishers pressured into rewriting textbooks to reduce the importance of Christianity in American history. We’re wondering who he’s talking about. In fact, TFN has not asked publishers to do anything of the kind. We’ll just say it plainly: Jonathan Saenz has trouble telling the truth.

2:28 – James Caneiro, a Texas State University student, adds his voice to those criticizing Pearson’s government textbook for its troubling treatment of affirmative action.

2:19 – More confusion from board members about just what the rules are for the textbook review process. Fortunately, board member Tom Maynard cuts through the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and makes it clear that folks testifying today should be assured that their concerns will be heard and considered by the board and publishers. But we want board members to insist that they know what changes publishers are making before voting on whether to adopt the textbooks in November.

1:51 – Kathleen Wellman, a professor of history at SMU in Dallas, is up. She volunteered to serve as an official state reviewer, but she was one of the more than dozen scholars who were not appointed to the state panels. Wellman takes aim at the requirements that Moses and the Judeo-Christian thought influenced the American founding and constitutional and legal system. She flatly rejects these requirements as “ahistorical” and calls the textbook passages about them overt factual errors: “The most problematic is Moses, who shows up everywhere [in the textbooks] doing everything.” She suggests that the publishers tried to conform to the flawed requirements without really knowing how to do so. Board member David Bradley asks whether Wellman is affiliated with and compensated by TFN. Her (entirely accurate) answer is no to both. Bradley’s continuing petty attempts to suggest that scholars are influenced by TFN rather than having formed their own professional opinions in their many years of research, writing and teaching are not surprising.

1:33 – Testimony is resuming after a lunch break.

12:36 – TFN President Kathy Miller is up to testify. She notes that more than a dozen scholars at Texas colleges and universities did not get appointed to the textbook review panels. Why? And now she’s cut off by board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, saying that testimony should focus only on the textbooks, not the flawed process for adopting them.

12:19 – Testifier criticizes the inaccurate textbook passages about the influence of Moses on the American legal system and constitutional structure of government.

12:16 – Once again, state board members seem confused by their own review process and how it is conducted (through Texas Education Agency staff). Let’s be clear here: the state’s official review process is deeply flawed and simply can’t be trusted. It includes few scholars (and many review panels have none), and they met in person to review the social studies textbooks for just a week. Our scholars worked for three months to review the textbooks.

12:10 – Ron Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at SMU in Dallas, is up. He echoes concerns voiced earlier by Chris Rose, who testified this morning, about the use of archaic and potentially offensive language identifying racial categories in one of the textbooks. Rose reviewed a number of world history textbooks for the TFN Education Fund.

12:00 p.m. – Another testifier is upset about the replacement of AD and BC with CE and BCE. And she thinks the social studies textbooks portray evolution as a fact. Human beings didn’t evolve from a bug, she says.

1:40 – David Brockman, a Christian theologian who teaches religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth and reviewed the textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, is up to speak. He’s concerned about a lack of balance in the textbooks in the coverage of world religions, particularly Islam and Christianity. The example he offers in the two minutes allotted to his testimony: of the textbooks portray Islam as a particularly violent religion that spread only by violence, which is inaccurate. The role that force and violence sometimes played in the spread of Christianity is ignored, on the other hand. He also tries to correct the record on what jihad really means. Board member David Bradley suggests TFN — which hired Brockman to conduct his reviews — is an “ideological organization.” He claims TFN has filed two court briefs calling for the removing the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms. Simply not true.

11:14 – Another speaker, Dr. Amy Jo Baker, insists that textbook aren’t telling the truth about Islam (jihad! Sharia law! Muslim Brotherhood! Islamic terrorism!) and American exceptionalism. This will almost certainly be a recurring theme throughout the day. “Communism, Nazism and Islamic terrorism is diametrically opposed” to what makes America exceptional, she says. She’s also critical of textbooks using CE and BCE instead of AD and BC for historical dates. She calls the change “politically correct” and biased. Board member Mavis Knight notes (accurately) that CE and BCE are typically used in academia. Baker explains that this is an issue of being “historically accurate” or “politically correct” and “leftist.” Those who want to use CE and BCE want to hide “the significant role Christianity has played in the history of the world.”

11:08 – A testifier notes a textbook discussion in one of the textbooks (McGraw-Hill geography) includes factually inaccurate discussions of Sikhism, including the religion’s origins. How could the state review teams miss that? Maybe because so few content experts were appointed to serve on them. So much for the wonderful review process Cargill and her colleagues brag about.

11:06 – Cargill argues that state law requires the public school curriculum materials to promote the free enterprise system. Yes, it does. But it doesn’t require those materials to lie to students.

11:04 – Board member Mercer misleadingly argues that curriculum writers “crossed out” discussions of free enterprise in early drafts of the curriculum standards. No, the fact is that curriculum writers wanted to call our economic system capitalism. Mercer is rewriting history.

10:55 – Dr. Jacqueline Jones, chair of the University of Texas History Department, is speaking now. She’s focused on the Pearson American history textbooks. She’s particularly concerned with the way the texts discuss the free enterprise system. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has criticized what it calls the uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system in the state’s curriculum standards (failing to include, for example, sufficient discussion of the role government has played in our economic system and the economic development of the United States). Jones sees that problem reflected in the Pearson textbooks as well. College students are encouraged to understand that America’s history is “a complicated story,” not a simplistic one, Jones explains. High school students should be prepared for that. Jones notes that the Pearson textbook follows the state curriculum standards very closely on this topic, resulting in an ideologically biased discussion.

10:51 – Frank Mayo, head of a group (him and an email account, we think) called Texans for Superior Education, is up. During the science textbook last year, Mayo was an evolution critic. Lately, Mayo has been promoting the argument that AP U.S. History courses have been taken over by Common Core and the great world conspiracy to do… something, we’re not entirely sure. We’re not sure what he’s trying to say this morning. State board members seem confused as well.

10:48 – State board members themselves seem confused about the process for reviewing and adopting textbooks — the process members like Barbara Cargill have bragged about in the past.

10:40 – Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, just finished promoting the fiction that state curriculum writers four years ago wanted to keep study of the Holocaust out of social studies classrooms. The man is shameless.

10:15 a.m. – We’ll be here today reporting on the State Board of Education’s public hearing on the proposed social studies textbooks. Two of the board’s far-right members, David Bradley and Barbara Cargill (board chair), have already warned testifiers that they won’t tolerate testimony criticizing the deeply flawed curriculum standards adopted by the board in 2010. They want testifier to discuss just the content in the textbooks — despite the fact that the textbook content is directly tied to the flawed standards themselves. How convenient.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 7 Comments

Proposed Texas Textbooks Get the Facts Wrong on Climate Change, Promote Denialism

When it comes to Texas textbook adoptions, attacks on science seem to be almost an annual affair now. So with the State Board of Education considering new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools this fall, we asked the National Center for Science Education to check what those texts say about climate change. The news is troubling. One textbook goes so far as to equate arguments from a polluter-funded political advocacy group with real facts from an international science organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Check out (below) our joint press release with NCSE.

Then click here to sign our petition and send a message to textbook publishers: take climate change denialism out of textbooks. Here’s the press release we just sent out:

An examination of how proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools address climate change reveals distortions and bias that misrepresent the broad scientific consensus on the phenomenon.

Climate education specialists at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) examined the proposed textbooks, which publishers submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. NCSE identified a number of errors as well as an exercise that absurdly equates a political advocacy group with a leading international science organization.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” explained Dr. Minda Berbeco, a programs and policy director at NCSE. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

NCSE’s analysis is available here.

The distortions and bias in the proposed social studies textbook are troubling, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” Miller said. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”

NCSE’s examination of the proposed textbooks noted a number of problematic passages dealing with the science of climate change. Among the problems:

• McGraw-Hill’s Grade 6 textbook for world cultures and geography equates factually inaccurate arguments from the Heartland Institute, a group funded by Big Tobacco and polluters to attack inconvenient scientific evidence, with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a highly regarded international science organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

• A Pearson elementary school textbook tells students: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” In fact, the vast majority – 97 percent – of actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers agree that humans bear the main responsibility.

• WorldView Software’s high school economics textbook includes an inaccurate and confusing section that misleadingly links tropical deforestation to the ozone hole.

These distortions of science raise concerns like those expressed in last year’s science textbook adoption, when more than 50 scientific and educational societies signed a letter to the Texas SBOE stating: “climate change should not be undermined in textbooks, whether by minimizing, misrepresenting, or misleadingly singling [it] out as controversial or in need of greater scrutiny than other topics are given.” That statement is available here.

NCSE and the TFN Education Fund are calling on publishers to revise the problematic passages to ensure that political bias doesn’t undermine the education of Texas students. On Tuesday the SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new textbooks. The board will vote in November.

Last week the TFN Education Fund released a series of reports from scholars who have detailed other serious concerns about the proposed textbooks. An executive summary and those reports are available here.

Don’t forget to sign our petition and send a message to textbook publishers: take climate change denialism out of textbooks.

Posted in climate change, social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 3 Comments

TFN in the News: Review of Social Studies Textbooks

TFN had a busy week. Last Wednesday we released a TFN-commissioned review of social studies textbooks that the Texas State Board of Education will vote on later this year.

That review, conducted by university scholars, found plenty of problems with the books, which can be traced back to the seriously flawed, politicized social studies standards the board approved a few years ago. Because of that, the review has been getting plenty of media attention.

Here is a round up of coverage of the review. Read up and get ready. We all have a big week ahead as the board gathers for its September meeting, including a hearing on the books this Tuesday.

continue reading »

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | Leave a comment

The Week in Quotes (Sept. 7 – 13)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

continue reading »

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‘This Planet is Great! — He Says We Qualify for Affirmative Action!’

In case you missed the news, the TFN Education fund on Wednesday released the results of a TFN-commissioned review of proposed social studies textbooks up for consideration by the Texas State Board of Education. The books, which will be voted on by the SBOE later this year, were reviewed by 10 scholars, including Dr. Emile Lester of the University of Mary Washington.

It is with Dr. Lester that we’ll begin today by going over just a few troubling examples of what the scholars found in their reviews.

Below is what Dr. Lester found on affirmative action in a Pearson Education textbook.

You can read Dr. Lester’s full review, and sign the petition calling for classroom materials that offer an honest, accurate portrayal of history and are free of political agendas, at tfn.org/history.

This summary of review findings has noted several times that the Pearson textbook occasionally displayed a tendency to prioritize ideology above a balanced treatment of opposing ideas. This tendency unfortunately is as, if not more, pronounced in the text’s treatment of affirmative action. Indeed, the textbook’s treatment of affirmative action verges on the offensive with its inclusion of two cartoons. One cartoon depicts two extraterrestrials in a spaceship that has recently landed on Earth. Gesturing toward a man in a suit and tie, one alien says to the other: “This planet is great!—He says we qualify for affirmative action!” The other cartoon depicts two aliens in a spaceship approaching Earth. One alien says to the other: “Relax, we’ll be fine. They’ve got affirmative action.” The question in the caption at the bottom of the cartoon is: “How is the cartoon suggesting that affirmative action would benefit the aliens?” By associating space aliens with beneficiaries of affirmative action, the cartoon seems to convey to students the implication that women and racial and ethnic minorities that receive affirmative action are somehow un-American or even perhaps less than fully human. The text does not have any counter-balancing cartoon that suggests to students possible reasons for supporting affirmative action.

The text also makes the ideological, unwarranted, and unsubstantiated prediction that “[i]t seems clear that the days of affirmative action programs are drawing to a close.” The evidence the text provides to support this claim is inadequate and lopsided. The text rests its claim in part on a Supreme Court case striking down an affirmative action policy (Ricci v. DeStefano) that was decided by a 5-4 margin. This means, of course, that the replacement of just a single Supreme Court justice could lead to very different outcomes in future cases regarding affirmative action. In addition, the federal government and state governments continue to maintain and even expand various types of affirmative action programs. To use just one recent example, in July 2014 Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order designed to expand contracting opportunities to small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses. It is also at least plausible to predict that the increasing proportion of minorities in the nation at large and in individual states could lead to greater public pressure for the adoption or maintenance of affirmative action policies. On a related note, defenders of affirmative action would argue that recent bans on affirmative action provide reason for voters to affirm the continued relevance of these programs. The University of Michigan claims, for instance, that minority enrollment dropped 33 percent from 2006 to 2012 after Michigan voters adopted the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (also known as Proposal 2) in 2006. In light of the text’s neglect to mention any evidence possibly contradicting its prediction, it is difficult not to suspect that this prediction, which has little pedagogical or descriptive value for students, is intended to persuade students about the illegitimacy of affirmative action.

This suspicion receives further confirmation from the inclusion of a clickable box that identifies states that have banned affirmative action. The caption accompanying this chart reads: “Affirmative action has been attacked most often in education…Why might states believe that banning affirmative action is beneficial to them from an economic standpoint?” The text does not include a similar chart identifying the states that have maintained affirmative action policies or one encouraging students to consider the possible economic and non-economic benefits of maintaining or expanding affirmative action. In addition, the sole textbook review question on affirmative action in this section further encourages students to question or oppose affirmative action. The multiple-choice question asks: “The Supreme Court applies strict scrutiny to affirmative action quotas because . . .” The correct answer is that “quotas make it impossible to choose individuals on a case-by-case basis.” The text provides no question suggesting why affirmative action programs might be consistent with the Constitution.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 1 Comment

Scholar Reviews Highlight Problems in Proposed Texas Social Studies Textbooks

The TFN Education Fund sent the following press release regarding proposed social studies textbooks up for consideration by the Texas State Board of Education this year.

Scholar Reviews Highlight Problems in Proposed Texas Social Studies Textbooks

Exaggerations, Distortions Reflect Flaws in Controversial Curriculum Standards

Social studies textbooks under state consideration for public schools this year include serious distortions of history and contemporary issues on topics ranging from religion and democracy to the free enterprise system and affirmative action, according to scholars who reviewed the new instructional materials for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

Many of those problems are linked to heavily politicized and controversial curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in 2010, TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller said.

“In all fairness, it’s clear that the publishers struggled with these flawed standards and still managed to do a good job in some areas, Miller said. “On the other hand, a number of textbook passages essentially reflect the ideological beliefs of politicians on the state board rather than sound scholarship and factual history.”

The TFN Education Fund asked 10 scholars to review content in textbooks submitted for history, government and geography classes in Grades 6-12: Dr. Edward Countryman, a distinguished professor of history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; Dr. David R. Brockman, an adjunct instructor in religious studies at SMU and at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth; Dr. Emile Lester, an associate professor in political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia; and seven doctoral students in history at the University of Texas at Austin.

Publishers faced a difficult choice either meet politicized requirements set out in the curriculum standards adopted by the SBOE or risk failing to win board approval for their textbooks this fall. The board will vote in November on which textbooks to adopt for Texas public schools.

“The path of least resistance for publishers would be simply to ‘write-to-the-standards,’ the textbook equivalent of ‘teaching-to-the-test,’” said Brockman, who reviewed how world history and geography textbooks covered religion. “That is, the option was to give the SBOE what it seems to want to hear, instead of sticking to what is historically sound. Sadly, some publishers have done the former in certain instances.”

The result is that the textbooks include claims that are unsupported by historical facts and based mostly on the ideological demands made clear in the curriculum standards by SBOE members.

“The SBOE and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars,” said Lester, who reviewed textbooks for high school American Government.

The curriculum standards include a number of claims and requirements that scholars have criticized as unsupported in mainstream scholarship.

“One can only hope that in the next round of drafting curriculum standards, good historical sense rather than ideology will prevail,” said Countryman. “The subject is far too important for ideology to trump all else.”

Countryman, Brockman and Lester together authored four reports about the new textbooks. The reports and an Executive Summary are available at www.tfn.org/TextbookReview. The scholars identified more than a dozen areas of concern in the textbooks. The Executive Summary lists all of them, including examples from the textbook packages. Many of their concerns involve material designed to meet the flawed curriculum standards, including:

  • Some textbooks greatly exaggerate religious influences on the American founding, with some going so far as to suggest without substantiation that Moses was a major influence, that “the roots of democratic government” can be found in the Old Testament, and that “the biblical idea of a covenant … contributed to our constitutional structure.”
  • While the textbooks largely make clear that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War, some give nods to neo-Confederate arguments first promoted after the war that “states’ rights” was the driving issue. Some also downplay the serious hardships faced by African Americans during segregation.
  • Some textbooks reinforce negative stereotypes of Islam as a violent religion spread exclusively by conquest. One tells students, inaccurately, that “the spread of international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism,” ignoring the numerous examples of terrorism not related to Islam at all.
  • Some textbooks suffer from an incomplete and at times inaccurate coverage of religions other than Christianity. For example, one textbook teaches students, inaccurately, that all Hindus are vegetarians. On other hand, coverage of key Christian concepts and historical events are lacking in a few textbooks, often apparently due to the presumption that all students are Christians and already familiar with that information.
  • Reflecting concerns already noted about the curriculum standards by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a number of textbooks present an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system. They downplay or even ignore legitimate problems in capitalism and the role government played in the growth of the American economy of the 1800s.
  • A number of U.S. History textbooks suffer from a general lack of attention to the experiences of Native American peoples and cultures and sometimes include biased or misleading information.
    One textbook includes a biased even offensive treatment critical of affirmative action, including cartoons that jokingly suggest space aliens would qualify.
  • Most textbooks offer scant coverage of the movement for LGBT equality, one of the salient civil rights struggles of the last half-century. One publisher links the gay rights movement of the late 1960s to society “spinning out of control.”

The TFN Education Fund reports are available at tfn.org/TextbookReview.

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The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund conducts research and citizen education in support of religious freedom, individual liberties and strong public schools.

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