Publishers Make Some Revisions to Texas Textbooks, But Big Problems Remain

So what’s been happening in the controversial social studies textbook adoption in Texas? Since the State Board of Education’s first public hearing on the adoption in September and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s release of scholarly reviews of the proposed textbooks, publishers have been considering changes to their textbooks. Today the state board met to hear publishers tell them what they plan to do, and TFN has had a chance to review those changes.

In short, publishers are making some good changes to address the legitimate concerns noted by our scholars. They also appear to be resisting pressure from right-wing groups and activists to insert more distortions and bias, particularly more information reinforcing negative stereotypes of Muslims. But the news is far from all good. Many problems remain, especially textbook passages that exaggerate, and even invent, religious influences on the American founding. We just sent out this press release:

PUBLISHERS MAKE SOME CORRECTIONS, BUT PROBLEMS REMAIN IN TEXAS TEXTBOOK ADOPTION

Publishers Also Largely Appear to Be Resisting Demands from Extremists

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2014

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund today applauded select changes made to proposed Texas public school social studies textbooks, as well as publishers’ unwillingness to bow to pressure from extremist groups seeking to insert further distortions into the texts.

TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller cautioned, however, that numerous problems with the textbooks remain, and she renewed a call to publishers to correct biased and inaccurate content uncovered in a scholarly review of the textbooks sponsored by the TFN Education Fund.

Publishers briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed changes at a meeting in Austin today.

“We are glad that publishers are in some cases listening to the advice of scholars and qualified experts who have looked at these textbooks,” Miller said. “We are headed in the right direction, but there remain in the textbooks a number of biases and inaccuracies that should be corrected before the books can be approved by the State Board of Education.”

The TFN Education Fund in September submitted to publishers reports outlining various problems with the books. The reports, authored by scholars and doctoral students at top universities, found the textbooks contain serious distortions of history and contemporary issues on topics ranging from religion and democracy to the free enterprise system and affirmative action.

Some of the improvements made by publishers in response to the TFN Education Fund reports include improving coverage of world religions, clarifying that the issue of slavery was the major cause of the U.S. Civil War, and correcting discussions about the spread of Islam and Christianity over time.

Publishers have also ignored demands from extremist groups that want to use the textbooks to reinforce negative stereotypes about Islam. Instead, publishers have removed biased passages about Muslims identified in the TFN Education Fund report.

For selected examples of changes made to the books, as well as requests for changes rejected by publishers, see the list below.

However, problems remain in the textbooks. For example, passages that exaggerate the influence of Christianity on the nation’s founding are still in several of the books.

“These textbooks make Moses the original founding father and credit him for virtually every distinctive feature of American government,” Southern Methodist University history professor Kathleen Wellman said. “I believe students will believe Moses was the first American.”

The State Board of Education will vote on which textbooks to approve at its meeting in November. If approved, the textbooks will be in use in Texas public schools starting with the 2015-16 academic year and could remain in classrooms for the next decade.

Selected Examples of Publisher Corrections and Improvements

·      Social Studies School Service – World History

“Much of the violence you read or hear about in the Middle East is related to Jihad.”

Publisher Response: “We intend to address [this] by rewording the statement in question (and surrounding text) to eliminate generalizations regarding the causes of violence in the Middle East.”

·      Pearson Education – Texas History

Causes of the Civil War 

Publisher Response: “Pearson will make the following correction: ‘In fact most historians agree that the major reason for disagreement about states’ rights was the determination of white southerners to maintain slavery. The economies of Texas and other southern states depended on slavery. The structure of these societies rested on slavery. All white people achieved some status in society simply because they were free.’”

·      Discovery Education – United States History (Civil War-Present)

Inadequate job discussing the relationship between the Enlightenment and Declaration of Independence

Publisher Response: “The page describes John Locke in depth and provides links to Glossary Terms on enlightenment ideas, including the social contract and natural rights. Additional video content will be added to the page to provide more context.”

·      Discovery Education – United States History (Civil War-Present)

Description of spread of Catholicism in Latin America “soft pedals” conquest

Publisher Response: “We will add text to clarify the role that conquest played in conversion.”

·      Cengage  – World Geography and Culture (Grade 6)

Description: The text suggests inaccurately that Islam spread only by conquest.

Publisher Response: Revise passage to read, “In the centuries after Muhammad’s death, Muslims spread their religion by conquest, through trade, and through missionary work.”

Selected Examples of Publisher Rejection of Extremist Demands to Introduce Bias/Inaccuracy

·      Worldview Software – World History

Demand: “Half Truth: To portray any hypothesis or theory [like evolution] as fact is a clear misapplication of the scientific method. Hypotheses must be falsifiable through observation and reproducible experimentation to be considered a legitimate participant in the scientific method.”

Publisher Response: “WorldView is following current and standard usage of the terms in question. From the National Academy of Sciences: ‘Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?’  It is both… No changes envisioned to the text.”

·      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – World History Studies

Demand: “Factual Error: Islam wasn’t ‘revealed’ until 610 A.D. Muslims began invading nations 156 years after Rome fell (632 A.D.), and they had (and have) no respect for knowledge, so if anything was left, they wouldn’t have cared to save it. Islam does not believe in preserving; exactly the opposite, in fact, in its belief that everything pre-Allah is corruption of truth and they must rip it up or tear it down.”

Publisher Response: Publisher agreed to clarify the timeline but did not agree to add distorted anti-Islam content promoted by the reviewer.

·      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – World Geography Studies

Demand: “Omission of Fact & Half Truth: Does not stress the dangers, oppression, and lack of freedoms that Communism always brings. ‘Benefits’ is not a correct word when using the word Communism. The word ‘benefits’ insinuates good things. Communism brings nothing good. This should be brought up in this section [on Cuba].”

Publisher Response: “Use of the word ‘benefits’ to describe the provision of education and health care under communism is appropriate.”

·      Pearson Education – Contemporary World Cultures

Demand: “For the Islamists jihad does not mean ‘the struggle to be a better person.’ It does not mean ‘violent struggle.’ It means holy war with the intent of spreading Islam throughout the world.”

Response: “This is not a factual error. The term has more than one meaning. It can be interpreted as the struggle to be a better person and as violent struggle in the form or holy war with the intent to spread Islam.”

·      Worldview Software – World History

Demand: “[Marcus Garvey] He stirred pride in African history? He stirred racism in America… Black people in America are known as Americans just as white people, red people, etc. To distinguish this person as a ‘Notable Person’ is appalling.”

Publisher Response: “No changes envisioned to the text.”

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

The Week in Quotes (Oct. 12 – 18)

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

continue reading »

Posted in The Week in Quotes | 1 Comment

The Week in Quotes (Oct. 5 – 11)

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

continue reading »

Posted in The Week in Quotes | 1 Comment

SMU Scholar: New Texas Textbooks Suggest ‘Wrong-Headed Idea That the United States Was Founded on Biblical Law’

When the State Board of Education held its first public hearing on proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools, scholars from across the state (and from outside Texas) expressed their concerns about serious problems in those texts. Kathleen Wellman, Dedman Family Distinguished Professor of History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was particularly concerned with how the textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influences on the American founding.

That exaggeration goes so far, Wellman notes in the video clip of her September testimony above, that the textbooks essentially make Moses “the Founding Father.” The impression students will get? Wellman, with only a hint of sarcasm:

“I think they’ll believe that Moses was the first American.”

Religious-righters on the State Board of Education in Texas hoped for this kind of textbook content when they passed deeply flawed and politicized new curriculum standards for social studies classes in 2010. The new textbooks must cover those standards.

You can read more about the problems in the proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools here: tfn.org/history. While you’re there, sign the petition calling for textbooks based on honest, accurate history, not the ideological beliefs of politicians on the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education is set to vote in November on which textbooks to approve.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 5 Comments

Religious-Right Shriekout over Marriage Equality

The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals to lower court rulings overturning same-sex marriage bans could very quickly lead to marriage equality in at least 30 states and possibly all states not far into the future. So religious-righters and their politician pals are in meltdown mode.

Peter LaBarbera of the despicable Americans For Truth About Homosexuality is pointing at the Bible and calling for “civil disobedience on a massive scale” in opposition to marriage equality. That echoes calls from Southern white bigots for “massive resistance” to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down school segregation in 1954 — calls that didn’t stop integration but contributed to racial animosity and violence.

Bryan Fischer from the anti-gay hate group American Family Association, which Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked to organize his football stadium prayer extravaganza in 2011, compared marriage equality to slavery:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is the Dred Scott of gay marriage. Legalizes something morally indefensible.”

Closer to home, gay-obsessed Jonathan Saenz at Texas Values comforted himself by noting that the Supreme Court’s sort of non-decision on Monday doesn’t make same-sex marriage legal in the Lone Star State — yet. It appears that the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will still have a say on that (although likely not the final say). But Saenz also repeated the well-worn lies that allowing LGBT people to marry will hurt children and somehow threaten religious freedom for everybody else:

“Redefining marriage comes at a high cost: it costs kids either a mom or a dad (who are not interchangeable), and it costs people of faith their First Amendment religious freedom rights as government imposes the new definition across all aspects of society.”

We find it remarkable that someone’s religious freedom could be dependent on government discriminating against other people. But that’s the “logic” Saenz offers.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was also upset Monday, calling the court’s decision “judicial activism at its worst”:

“The Constitution entrusts state legislatures, elected by the People, to define marriage consistent with the values and mores of their citizens.  Unelected judges should not be imposing their policy preferences to subvert the considered judgments of democratically elected legislatures.”

That seems hypocritical, to say the least, considering that Cruz wants the courts to strike down Obamacare as unconstitutional even though that action would “subvert the considered judgment of democratically elected” members of Congress who passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Of course, even if he didn’t want to, Cruz has to sound militant on this issue. That’s because religious-righters are insisting that Republican politicians take a stand against equality. Iowa-based talk show host Steve Deace, who apparently thinks watching two women kiss is a threat to liberty, said the Supreme Court’s non-decision on Monday threatens the “35-year marriage between Christians and the Republican Party.”

Former Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Pauken seems to agree, calling out a supposed “lack of political courage on the issue of marriage by GOP leaders.”

We wonder how much courage it really takes for a Republican politician to kowtow to the anti-gay fanatics who dominate the GOP base, especially in Texas. It seems to us that the more courageous are those who stand up for equality, not against it. So who are those courageous politicians? Maybe we’ll finally get a chance to see — but don’t hold your breath.

Posted in LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 10 Comments

What’s in the Proposed New Texas Textbooks? Taxes Are Bad for Society

3gibbs

This cartoon from Pearson Education’s Magruder’s American Government is an example of how Tea Party rhetoric shapes discussions on issues such as taxation and government regulation in proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools. The same textbook includes this passage:

“In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., taxes are ‘what we pay for civilized society.’ Society does not appear to be much more civilized today than it was when Justice Holmes made that observation in 1927. However, ‘what we pay’ has certainly gone up.”

Dr. Emile Lester, who reviewed the government textbooks publishers are proposing this year for Texas schools, explains what’s wrong with this passage in his report:

“The text neglects to mention that defenders of increased taxation for an expanded safety net would respond that programs adopted since 1927 such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act have produced such ‘civilized’ benefits as a drastic reduction of poverty and economic insecurity among the elderly, children, and the population at large, and improved and more equal access to health care.”

Right-wing politicians on the State Board of Education in Texas hoped for this kind of textbook content when they passed deeply flawed and politicized new curriculum standards for social studies classes in 2010. The new textbooks must cover those standards.

You can read more about the problems in the proposed new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools here: tfn.org/history. While you’re there, sign the petition calling for textbooks based on honest, accurate history, not the ideological beliefs of politicians on the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education is set to vote in November on which textbooks to approve.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 2 Comments

RNC Head Lies about the Texas Anti-Abortion Law

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus thinks people will believe almost any lie. That’s the only explanation for why he would lie so baldly today when he was asked about the Texas abortion law that, as of Friday, has left open just seven clinics providing abortion care in the entire state of Texas.

Today on NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked Priebus about the law that the Texas GOP rammed through the Legislature in 2013. Here’s Talking Points Memo’s report on the exchange between Todd and Priebus:

“One of the things about the Republican party is you don’t like a lot of regulation on businesses, except if the business is a abortion clinic,” Todd said to Priebus. “80 percent of these abortion clinics in Texas are going to be basically out of business because of this new law. Too much regulation, is that fair?”

“Well, you obviously have to talk to someone in Texas” Priebus responded. “But the fact of the matter is that we believe that any woman that’s faced with an unplanned pregnancy deserves compassion, respect, counseling, whatever it is that we can offer.”

Todd then asked Priebus how forcing women to “drive 200 or 300 miles” amounts to “compassion.”

Priebus then said the law was about taxpayers’ money.

“The issue for us is only one thing. And that’s whether you ought to use taxpayer money to fund abortion,” he said. “That’s the one issue that I think separates this conversation that we’re having.”

 

Todd is right, of course. The Texas law clearly exposes the hypocrisy of anti-government, anti-regulation zealots on the right, especially because it’s so clear that the purpose of the law was simply to close clinics and limit the availability of safe, legal abortion care for women who seek it. And the argument that making it harder for women to get that care is somehow compassionate is galling.

But just as galling is the suggestion by Priebus that the new law has anything to do with keeping taxpayers from funding abortions. Taxpayers didn’t fund abortions at these clinics before passage of the law. In fact, the law’s defenders in Texas haven’t even used that as a justification. Priebus is simply lying in a pathetic effort to defend making it harder — or even impossible — for women in Texas to seek legal reproductive health care.

Are you ready to #FightBackTX? Then it’s time to take action and tell politicians like Priebus, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick to stop their war on women’s health care.

Posted in abortion, TFN | 2 Comments

Colorado Politician Shows Ignorance Isn’t Limited to Texas Education Board

Ignorance and political nonsense clearly aren’t problems just on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). A Colorado Board of Education member this week echoed the ridiculous complaints of her right-wing counterparts in Texas about the new framework for the popular AP U.S. History course for high school students. Critics have charged that the new framework is unpatriotic and worse. Here’s how Colorado board member Pam Mazanec argued on her Facebook page that students should learn about American “exceptionalism” instead of “negative viewpoints” about our nation’s history:

“As an example, I note our slavery history. Yes, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today! Shouldn’t our students be provided that viewpoint? This is part of the argument that America is exceptional. Does our APUSH (AP U.S. History) framework support or denigrate that position?”

For the record, well over 1 million Union and Confederate troops were killed, wounded or died of disease in the very bloody Civil War that led to the supposedly “voluntary” end of slavery in this country. Recent scholarship (bad word for right-wingers, we know) suggests that the number of military deaths was about 750,000. And we won’t bother asking how Mazanec wants history classes to handle the legacy of that war, including the horrors of poverty, racist violence and segregation.

How did ignorant politicians like Mazanec get in the position of censoring and rewriting fact-based history in our schoolchildren’s classrooms? The simple answer is too many people who know better either didn’t vote or weren’t paying attention when they did. Elections matter.

Posted in AP U.S. History, TFNEF | 3 Comments

Backlash Grows as Right-Wing Censors Push Political Attacks on AP U.S. History Course

The far right’s war on public education has a new target: Advanced Placement U.S. History, of all things. And now efforts to censor what students learn in those courses has sparked a growing backlash from students, parents, teachers and advocacy groups that are worried about efforts to politicize the popular course taken by nearly a half-million high schoolers across the country.

The manufactured controversy over AP U.S. History has roots, as this informative summary points out, at the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). That should be no surprise to anyone who knows just how politicized the SBOE is and how influential its far-right bloc has been over the past decade.

Texas SBOE member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, began flogging the issue earlier this year, insisting (misleadingly and inaccurately) that the College Board’s revamped framework for the course undermined patriotism and promoted America-bashing. Joined by variety of Tea Party and other right-wing activists, Mercer has claimed that the framework leaves out key patriotic figures and emphasizes negative aspects of American history. Activists supporting his efforts call the course anti-American, argue that it is tied to Common Core curriculum standards (which they see as practically satanic), and criticize examples of what they darkly call  “progressive education” throughout the framework.

Mercer proposed an SBOE resolution condemning the course, but the board last month adopted a watered-down version that was somewhat less critical. Even so, right-wingers have celebrated the passage of that resolution as well as a new SBOE rule requiring all AP courses in Texas to cover the state’s required curriculum standards. (Yes, the same deeply flawed curriculum standards that even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has criticized as a “politicized distortion of history” after the SBOE’s far-right bloc rammed through their approval in 2010.)

Meanwhile, the controversy has spread outside of Texas, aided by writers at the conservative National Review as well as other bloggers and political activists. In August the Republican National Committee passed a resolution condemning the AP course framework’s for its alleged “radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” Tea Party heartthrob Ben Carson has claimed that the course will lead students “to go sign up for ISIS,” the radical and murderous Islamist group in Iraq and Syria. And activists have promoted the anti-AP campaign in various states and local communities across the country, including South Carolina and Colorado.

The College Board has repeatedly explained that the attacks are fueled by misinformation about the course. See an open letter from the College Board about the controversy here and the College Board’s Frequently Asked Questions guide about the new framework here.

And now supporters of the AP U.S. History course are fighting back. Colorado’s state education board refused to consider a resolution from right-wing members attacking the course. After right-wingers on the Denver-area school board in Jefferson County, Colorado, proposed a curriculum committee to “monitor” the course for supposedly objectionable content, students began boycotting classes. Colorado parents are also organizing in an effort to stop the Jefferson County board from implementing its censorship panel. (One of the parents has contacted TFN for advice on building an effective grassroots campaign.)

And today the American Civil Liberties Union and seven other groups sent a letter to the Jefferson County school board criticizing the attacks on the A.P. U.S. History course. The letter says in part:

“The board’s attempt to monitor school curricula to promote certain viewpoints means privileging the beliefs of some individuals over others. It is precisely this form of viewpoint discrimination by government that our constitutional system is designed to prevent.”

Back in Texas, SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, has expressed his disgust with the political attacks on the AP U.S. History course from some of his board colleagues. He abstained on the resolution vote and has pointed out (as does the resolution itself) that the course saved $16 million in tuition costs last year for students who earned college credit by doing well in the course. That means this new political witch hunt launched by Tea Party activists could cost Texas families millions of dollars if it ends up killing the AP program in the Lone Star State.

Ratliff also sent his fellow SBOE members an internal memo, with the subject line “Self-Inflicted Wounds,” explaining that the anti-AP resolution was yet another example of a fringe political controversy that discredits the board in the eyes of the Legislature:

“The legislature takes authority from us because we do things like we did last week. We spent HOURS listening to public testimony and debating amendments to a non-binding, unenforceable, politically motivated resolution.  In fact, we spent more time on this issue than any other issue before us last week, including the adoption of Social Studies, Math and Fine Arts instructional materials, adopting a payout rate from the $30 billion Permanent School Fund to pay for those materials, and the GPA requirements for teacher certification programs.  I don’t know about you, but I would think those issues would justify more time and deliberation than a non-binding resolution. If we ever hope to regain some of our previous jurisdiction, we need to put politics aside and put our focus back on real issues facing the classroom.”

Apparently, one of Ratliff’s colleagues responded by leaking that internal memo to a right-wing fanatic with an email list. That fanatic then forwarded the memo to her list along with a nasty message in which she attacked Ratliff and called for his impeachment. We wouldn’t be surprised if Ratliff comes to the conclusion that a number of his board colleagues really don’t give a damn about educating Texas kids. They’re more interested in censoring textbooks and using public schools to promote their own political beliefs. And they’ll do that even if it means stabbing a colleague in the back or destroying a popular and well-respected AP course.

Posted in AP U.S. History, TFNEF | 3 Comments

TFN Endorses Wendy and Leticia for Texas!

gov-and-ltg-endorsement

We’re proud to announce the Texas Freedom Network’s endorsements for governor and lieutenant governor for the 2014 election. Our full slate of endorsements will be released before early voting, but TFN members will have advance access to that list. So become a member today at tfn.org/membershipdrive.

(Political advertisement paid for by the Texas Freedom Network)

Posted in 2014 Elections, TFN | 1 Comment