The Texas State Board of Education is about to take up a proposed resolution attacking Islam and claiming that social studies textbooks are anti-Christian. TFN Insider will keep you updated on progress.
9:53 a.m. – We notice that board members Barbara Cargill and Don McLeroy have been going through world history textbooks currently used in Texas publics schools. Cargill has them stacked at her desk. We anticipate that she and McLeroy will use examples from those books to try to prove that they reflect an anti-Christian, pro-Islamic bias. But those textbooks were approved for Texas schools by this board in 2002, and social conservatives at the time were very happy. Why? Because, as news reports from the time explain, they were able to force publishers to make numerous changes, including the addition of positive references to Christianity and the deletion of neutral or positive references to Islam. From a Houston Chronicle article dated Oct. 30, 2002 (now archived on a conservative Christian website):
The discussion of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., by Muslim extremists was closely read by many reviewers. Raborn criticized a passage in the Glencoe/McGraw-Hill book that discussed how Osama bin Laden’s instructions to his followers to kill Americans was not supported by the Quran, which tells soldiers to show civilians kindness and justice.
“This is going to great length to put a positive light on Muslim teachings considering other passages in the Quran. Either leave this material out alltogether or present more balance,” Raborn said in written comments submitted to the state board.
The publisher replaced the deleted passage with a statement that al-Qaeda’s anti-American beliefs were not shared by all Muslims. “The attacks on the United States horrified people around the world, including millions of Muslims who live in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere,” the book now reads.
Other examples are found in an Oct. 27, 2002, Fort Worth Star-Telegram article in our files (apparently archived on a subscription-only website). The article notes that publishers were forced to delete this passage from one textbooks, World Explorer: People, Places and Cultures:
“But many more other teachings in the Quran, such as the importance of honesty, honor, giving to others and having love and respect for their families, govern their daily lives.”
Another textbook, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, added this passage:
“Christianity, for example, appealed to educated people, as it adopted a complex set of ideas about God and life. Its spirituality and its promise of eternal life also appealed to many other groups.”
That article summed up the changes:
“Some new Texas textbooks no longer teach that the Quran stresses honesty and honor, that glaciers moved over the earth millions of years ago or that Communists felt their system of government offered workers more security. “
The reference to glaciers was changed in one textbook to “in the distant past” because creationists insist that these rivers of ice could not have moved over the earth millions of years ago when, they argued, earth didn’t even exist.
Conservatives quoted by the article expressed their delight with the changes they forced publishers to make throughout their textbooks. Here’s what Chris Patterson of the far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation had to say:
“For the most part, we are delighted with the changes. The publishers made very substantive changes in adding content and correcting errors.”
Today, however, the State Board of Education’s bloc of social conservatives claim that social studies textbooks the board adopted eight years ago are anti-Christian and pro-Islam.
10 a.m. – Gail Lowe, state board chair, brings up the resolution. She says this resolution is just about the balanced treatment of “divergent religious groups.” Really? Then why does the resolution specifically attack Islam and make untrue claims about coverage of Islam and Christianity in the standards?
10:01: Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller is testifying. We’ll reproduce her testimony on here later. She’s making a sharp criticism of this inflammatory resolution: “It’s hard not to conclude that the misleading claims in this resolution are not the result of ignorance or are instead the result of fear-mongering.” She says: pass a neutral resolution that calls for on publishers to treat all religions fairly and accurately. Attacking Islam in the resolution is unnecessary and divisive.
10:05 – Board member Ken Mercer seems to argue that the resolution should, in fact, specifically note certain religions. Why? He claims there is anti-Christian bias in the textbooks.
10:09 – Board member David Bradley says Kathy would be unemployed if the board took her advice and stopped taking up politically divisive measures like this. Kathy says she welcomes that day.
10:10 – Jonathan Saenz of Liberty Institute, Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family, speaks in favor of this discriminatory resolution. Liberty claims to support conservative Christian values, but Saenz is remarkably adept at not telling the truth:”A fair point has been brought to the board based on a lot of detail.” Yes, but that detail is misleading and filled with falsehoods.
10:15 – Board member Lawrence Allen, who is Muslim, asks why the resolution targets Islam specifically. He notes that the resolution isn’t about balance: “This resolution is a ‘one versus the other.’”
10:16 – Saenz says he doesn’t think the resolution needs to be changed — he supports it as is.
10:17 – Board member Mercer says board rules don’t allow him to talk about books in the classroom now. (That’s wrong.) So he wants, he says, to focus on bias in textbooks published more than a decade ago and that aren’t used in classrooms (and haven’t been used in Texas classrooms for almost a decade). Seriously? That suggestion makes sense only in Crazy Land.
10:19 – Board member Gail Lowe corrects Mercer: the board can talk about current textbooks. They just can’t be the subject of a resolution.
10:22 – Saenz attacks Kathy’s testimony, claiming she “dodged” questions board members had for her. Really? Name just one, Jonathan. Does he think his job is to criticize other folks or defend the discriminatory resolution he supports?
10:31 – Board member Bob Craig: Do you agree that if you pass a resolution, it should be accurate? Saenz agrees. Craig: Should all religions be treated fairly? Saenz says yes, but he claims that the details in the resolution aren’t treating a particular negatively. Craig: Unless it’s inaccurate. Craig says he has talked to publishers about their books.
10:33 – Board member Terri Leo says publishers wouldn’t admit to their textbooks being inaccurate. She claims she has gone through the textbooks in classrooms today and claims that those books are anti-Christian.
10:35 – Board member Rene Nunez asks: who wrote the resolution? Saenz: Randy Rives. Nunez notes that Rives ran against Bob Craig in the March Republican Primary.
10:41 – Terri Leo: Are you aware that Muslim women wear burqas? That some Muslim women get their fingers get cut off if they wear fingernail polish? She asks whether textbooks shouldn’t portray Muslims as treating women well.
10:43 – Brian Spears of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is speaking now. AU, he says, supports the balanced treatment of all religions in the textbooks. The resolution’s effect, however falls short of that by singling out Islam for condemnation. He specifically takes issue with the resolution for claiming that Arab investors are trying to influence the education of American schoolchildren by buying into publishing companies. This resolution “adds to fuel” to the anti-Islam rhetoric around the country currently. This is also an example of putting politics ahead of education, he says. Fantastic testimony.
10:46 – Board member David Bradley: show me where the Constitution says “separation of church and state.” Brian responds: the concept is in there, along with concepts like “separation of powers” even though those specific words are also not in the Constitution.
10:48 – A San Antonio resident is speaking now. Not sure whether she supports or opposes the resolution. She wants the resolution to be more general and that all religions should be mentioned in it.
10:54 – Another citizen speaks, this time in favor of the resolution. Mary Bremmer? Bruner? Spelling?
10:55 – Our schools are almost teaching that Christians should be ashamed of their religion, she claims. Textbook writers have a political agenda, and the worldview of children are distorted as a result, she argues. She claims that there is far more coverage of Islam than Christianity (a plainly false claim). She worries that students won’t be told the “truth” about Islam: not a religion of peace, persecutes religion, breeds terrorists, “Muslims have greatly exceed the [Christian] Crusaders in violence.” She complains that Islam is mentioned in more textbook headers than Christianity. Asked by board member Lawrence Allen whether she thinks investors are buying into textbook companies to influence American education, she replies emphatically: “I think the Middle Easterners are buying the textbooks. They’re buying everything else here.” She wants textbooks to include a disclaimer that notes the biases of the owners and investors in publishing companies.
11:04 – Now Anthony Bruner (spelling) is up to speak in favor of the resolution. “Out textbook writers and publishers have given in to political correctness throughout the years.” He says many biases are creeping into textbooks.
11:07 – We thought this would be done by now, but why are we surprised? This is yet another opportunity for fanatics on the State Board of Education to grandstand on a hot-button “culture war” issue rather than do their jobs and ensure that Texas get an education based on facts and sound scholarship.
11:10 – Mary Parks, a parent, is testifying: “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” Outsiders have used our youth’s education to influence the world, she says in supporting the resolution.
11:13 – Dave Welch, head of the far-right group Texas Pastor Council, is up to speak. Welch says his pastors are “real pastors,” unlike, apparently, clergy who spoke against this resolution at a TFN press conference on Monday: “The Texas Freedom Network does not represent the church in the state of Texas.” Of course, we never have claimed to “speak for the church.” But we have worked with clergy who don’t like seeing faith used as a weapon to divide people and promote a political agenda. Welch supports the resolution: “It is critical that this board send this message through this resolution … that you’ll reject inaccuracies and distortions in the submissions to this board of textbooks.” Board member Bob Craig: do you want something that doesn’t promote one religion over another, right? Welch: Yes. Craig: Are you OK with an edited resolution with balanced, proportional language? Welch: If you don’t lose the purpose of this resolution.
11:18 – Board member Pat Hardy: The board hasn’t asked academic experts to even review this resolution. She says it would be dangerous for the board to vote for a resolution that makes claims that may simply not be true. (Of course, we absolutely agree.)
11:25 – Board member Barbara Cargill: one good thing about the resolution, she says, is that people in her district have been looking at their kids’ textbooks. Cargill objects to a specific world history textbook that describes the negative consequences of Christian persecution of others during the Crusades. Sorry, Ms. Cargill, but that’s historical fact. But the section Cargill is reading from is called: Why the Crusades Matter (or that’s what she read aloud, anyway). The section she describes explains that Christian persecution of non-Christians in land they conquered during the Crusades created bitterness over the centuries. That’s simply a factual statement, whether she likes it or not.
11:31 – Welch is critical of Muslims investing in American publishing companies.
11:32 – Board member Pat Hardy notes that the passage about Christian Crusaders creating animosity toward Christians throughout the centuries is historically accurate. Welch: “I would argue the accuracy of that.” Pat Hardy, by the way, is a Republican — and an educator who works in public schools. Good for her.
11:35 – Hardy asks: would you be satisfied with a simple resolution that calls on publishers to write balanced textbooks that treat all religions accurately? Welch: No. I want the specifics (the Muslim bashing, of course) in the rest of the resolution.
11:44 – Welch: “Balance is a word that can be misconstrued.” Really? He and board member Ken Mercer agree that having more lines about Islam than about Christianity isn’t balance. They once again ignore the fact that entire sections of the textbooks that deal with Christianity aren’t noted at all in the resolution. Let’s be blunt: the resolution’s claims about the supposed lack of coverage of Christianity is a lie.
11: 47 – Frank Knack of the ACLU of Texas is testifying against the resolution. Knack focuses on the fact that this resolution hasn’t been vetted by scholars. Its purpose is to promote a political agenda and not education, he argues.
11:52 – Sherry Wyatt (spelling?) is testifying in favor of the resolution. She complains about her children’s middle school social studies textbook. She says a unit on the Eastern Hemisphere from A.D. 500 to 1500 is dominated by discussions of religions other than Christianity. Well, perhaps that’s because religions other than Christianity dominated that part of the world during that period. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions were dominant in that part of the world during that time. The year 1500 was at the beginning of the age of European exploration, when Europeans began to spread Christianity to other parts of the world.
12:04 – Board member Terri Leo says a group called the Council for Islamic Education is promoting education about Islam in American schools. We’re not quite sure what her point is (but we can guess).
12:05 – Board member Don McLeroy: He says when he reviewed the proposed social studies textbooks in 2002, he wrote about the gift of Medieval Christendom to the world during the era of A.D. 500 to 1500. Well, there’s no question Christianity had huge influence on the Western Hemisphere at that time. But the testifier said the unit she’s talking about deals with the Eastern Hemisphere.
12:26 – Cargill moves to adopt the resolution. The actual board debate will begin now. She claims that she reviewed the current textbooks and found bias in the language of the subheadings in the chapters. Really? This is about getting better subheadings in the table of contents?
12:33 – McLeroy reiterates his opinion that the two great events in world history are not sufficiently highlighted in the textbooks: “discovery of monotheism by the Jews” and the “Christmas story.”
12:35 – Bob Craig is once again the voice of reason. Craig notes inaccuracies in the content of the resolution and says he doesn’t support the resolution as it’s written. He believes there is a better way to accomplish their common purpose — making sure all religions are treated fairly. Amen.
12:36 – Hardy speaks against the resolution, noting the misleading information it contains.
12:38 – Lawrence Allen also speaks against the resolution. As “a person who practices Islam,” Allen notes he is offended by the way Islam has been singled out unfairly in the resolution. He makes clear he supports accuracy and fairness in the treatment of religions, like everyone else on the board, but questions why this divisive resolution has wasted so much of their time.
12:41 – Mavis Knight will also vote against, saying the inaccurate information in the resolution has “poisoned the room.”
12:42 – Tincy Miller echoes Bob Craig and Pat Hardy — this resolution has not been vetted by independent experts, so she can’t support it.
12:44 – Cynthia Dunbar speaks for the first time today, quoting various scholars on the particular points about the Crusades. She says she hopes publishers will listen to these scholars when developing textbooks. For once, we agree with Ms. Dunbar. Consult the experts! Dunbar then called the question, but Chairwoman Lowe asks that everyone who wants to be allowed to speak.
12:47 – Agosto speaks against the resolution, noting that because Ms. Berlanga and Nunez are not present, it will likely pass.
12:48 – Craig offers an amendment striking most of the “whereas” statements (which are critical of alleged “pro-Islamic bias”), keeping intact instruction to treat various religions fairly. Bradley tries to short-circuit this amendment by saying the question was called earlier. Chair overrules, so we will have vote on Craig’s more neutral amendment.
12:51 – Hardy speaks in favor of Craig’s substitute. Call for a record vote.
12:53 – Substitute fails 6 to 7, with all of the religious right bloc voting together. (Nunez left earlier, for unknown reasons.)
12:54 – Craig moves to postpone vote until November meeting so TEA staff can check the accuracy of the resolution language.
12:57 – Unbelievably, it appears the far right bloc is going to oppose this. Bradley says members have had plenty of time to conduct their own research.
Wow. Who needs to know if you are voting based on accurate information? When you’ve got a majority, you can apparently ratify your own facts. Like Mr. McLeroy once famously said, “Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts…”
1:01 – Craig’s motion to postpone fails 6 – 7. (Lowe is breaking her tradition of not voting and casting the deciding vote.)
1:03 – Dunbar offers her own amendment here — something about Article 6 of the US Constitution. We’re trying to get the language now. The board is at ease.
1:08 – Dunbar moves to withdraw her amendment, which called on the board to reject any textbook that advanced a political agenda that would violate the U.S. Constitution. This is classic right-wing nonsense that Islam is an ideology, not a religion. No objection to withdrawal of Dunbar’s amendment.
1:10 – Mavis Knight moves to postpone indefinitely of the resolution. Board member Rick Agosto: This resolution makes the board members look like we’re cuckoo, and we are. It’s hard to argue with this one. Knight’s motion fails.
1:14 – Final vote on the original board resolution: 7-6, with all of the board’s far-right members voting as a bloc. We’ll have a statement shortly.
We are preparing a public statement and will release that in the next few minutes.