Ten Outrageous Changes Publishers Agreed to Make to Texas Social Studies Textbooks in 2002

The State Board of Education is set this year to adopt new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools. So we went back to our files to see what happened during the last social studies textbook adoption in the Lone Star State more than a decade ago.

During public hearings and in written comments submitted in 2002, right-wing activists and state board members raised numerous political objections to content in history, geography, government and economics textbooks publishers had submitted to the board for approval. The pressure they put on publishers to bow to political demands and alter their textbooks succeeded in a number of areas. Following are ten of the worst changes publishers agreed to make:

  1. Publishers of world geography textbooks agreed to revise references to the formation of fossil fuels, glaciers and landscape features occurring “millions of years ago” to read instead “in the distant past” and “over time.” The revised passages then would not conflict with the beliefs of creationists that Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
  2. A publisher agreed to remove links to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website after a critic complained that a textbook passage on the environment contained “too much trash” and “promotes activism and sends students to EPA websites.”
  3. A publisher agreed to change “many scientists” to “some scientists” in a discussion of scientists who accept the overwhelming evidence about the greenhouse effect and climate change.
  4. A publisher agreed to delete a sentence reading “Acid rain that is produced in the United States and carried north by wind is a major environmental problem for Canada.” A critic had objected to the negative impact of acid rain being discussed as a fact and to the implication that America was responsible.
  5. Publishers altered common descriptions of the Constitution as a “living document” (in some cases deleting the term) because right-wing critics claimed that the term was hostile to a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
  6. A publisher agreed to delete “In the United States, everyone has a right to free public education” from a textbook after a critic argued that the sentence suggested education is an entitlement.
  7. A publisher agreed to delete a Critical Thinking question asking students whether they think civil rights activists were justified in breaking the law in their struggle for equality. In fact, many civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., engaged in civil disobedience and were arrested for violating laws regarding segregation and public protests. But a critic argued that the question encouraged students to break the law.
  8. A publisher agreed to delete a sentence reading “Christians would later accept slavery in other contexts.” This came after a critic argued that textbook discussions of slavery in the United States were too negative and anti-Christian.
  9. After a critic called the sentence “more propaganda” for Islam, a publisher agreed to delete a sentence that read: ““[M]any 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.”
  10. A publisher altered a passage that discussed how Osama bin Laden’s instructions to kill Americans were not supported by the Quran, which tells soldiers to treat civilians with kindness and justice. A critic insisted that the passage was an example of textbooks “going to great length to put a positive light on Muslim teachings.” The publisher changed the passage so that it said simply that not all Muslims agreed with bin Laden’s beliefs.

Those social studies textbooks will have been in Texas public schools for 12 years before those adopted by the State Board of Education this year  get to classrooms in the fall of 2015.

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9 Comments

  1. Jim Kennedy
    Posted August 7, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Can you offer accurate, truthful facts that support you criticism of the changes to the 2002 textbooks, or has global cooling –I mean global warming — I mean climate change has destroyed your files?

    • Steven Schafersman
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes, truthful facts are always better than the false facts we often see on Faux News! I am knowledgeable about history as well as science, and I can detect the historical revisionism, bigotry, and pseudoscience in all ten of the examples TFN provided (I’m sure there are many more).

      Wouldn’t it be better to just adopt curriculum standards and instructional materials that professional educators, curriculum experts, scientists, and historians produce rather than–as some members of the Texas State Board of Education do–deliberately substitute their own ignorant, politically/ideologically/religiously biased, bigoted, and pseudoscientific extremist agenda and beliefs for those of the education professionals? Texas education law (the TEC, Texas Education Code) gives the majority of SBOE members (8 individuals) the power to do this, but how often is it wise to do so? In the present case, these members are abusing their elected public offices by politicizing the content of science and social studies instructional materials so it will better match their own private, bizarre, bigoted, and extreme views, thus forcing Texas public school students to receive a third-rate, dumbed-down, unreliable education that consists of as much indoctrination and proselytizing as actual substantive instruction. Is it any wonder why our state’s public school system achieves such poor results?

      Thank goodness schools can now just refuse to buy the instructional materials the State Board mandates and rather purchase un-censored materials that match professional national standards and that still, of course, correspond to the TEKS, although the TEA may not certify that–but it’s politically biased, too.

      The Texas public education system has been broken for the past four decades in my own experience as an investigator and advocate. The reason is well-known: the state gives enormous, centralized authority and power to a small group of elected officials who invariably represent the ignorant, bigoted, and religious Fundamentalist values of the majority of Texans who vote. These elected officials are not ashamed to publicly substitute their own extreme and bizarre values for those of professional educators who actually know what children need to learn to be well-educated in a diverse, complex, competitive, technological society. As has been extensively documented, the vast majority of Texas high school graduates are unprepared for higher education and future academic success since they have had to rely on grade inflation, social promotion, and idiosyncratic Texas-specific exams to graduate. Many graduates are functionally illiterate and innumerate and lack critical thinking skills. They have been prepared for low-paying jobs in the vast Texas service economy and thus won’t challenge the aggregated political influence of plutocrats who keep medical, drug, insurance, and energy costs high; property and sales taxes high; air, water, and soil pollution and habitat-loss high; and the quality of life and health care low. Only good public education will stop this vicious cycle, and that will require stripping even more power from the SBOE–which has insidiously managed to find ways around every previous attempt to limit its baneful influence.

      • Jim Kennedy
        Posted August 12, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for again sharing your biased opinions.
        Now, can you please present some accurate, factual data supporting your criticism of the text book changes???

      • Elizabeth Parker
        Posted August 13, 2014 at 1:21 am | Permalink

        “Truthful facts are always better than false facts.” Oh me. It is so late, but *that* made me guffaw. I thank you for that. (And, thank you, Steven, for fighting the good fight.)

  2. Steven Schafersman
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    As I said in an earlier comment, Social Studies was hurt far more than Science when curriculum standards were adopted because there were over a hundred 8-7 and 9-6 votes to adopt inaccurate, misleading, and extreme right-wing standards, while Science suffered about eight similar 8-7 votes. This was because in 2009 and 2010 at least two of the Republican SBOE members who largely supported Science readily voted to change standards submitted by Social Studies experts and adopt damaging politicized standards.

    The publishers know what to expect when their instructional materials come up for adoption so they are engaging in their time-honored tradition of pre- or self-censorship (that used to be common with science textbooks in decades past). To sell their instructional materials in Texas, publishers WILL make debilitating changes that weaken the accuracy and professionalism of their materials (as briefly described above by TFN). Unlike with the adoption of science materials last year, they expect that the Radical Religious Right-wing Republican members will have the majority votes they need to get what they want. I predict multiple debates and controversies, ultimately decided by 8-7 votes, concerning the numerous changes reported above. These changes, of course, were instigated by the many reactionary Christian Fundamentalists, Christian Nationalists, and American Exceptionalists deliberately salted on the TEA instructional material review panels–none of whom are conservatives but are better described as radical extremists who have an extraordinarily distorted understanding of American history and government. According to the corrupt rules, ANY panel member–not a majority of a panel–can object to facts and textual content and ask for a change. The publishers this year feel obligated to make the changes. Unfortunately, since the materials are going to come in damaged after panel review, it will require a majority vote of SBOE members to change back pre-censored text to a scientifically- or historically-accurate state (such as change “over time” to “millions of years ago”). Publishers will of course have national editions of their instructional materials without the inaccurate, debilitating, and ugly content for other states to adopt, but–as usual–the Texas editions will try to achieve their goal of keeping Texas students ignorant.

    But remember this: Texas school districts do not have to adopt the Texas editions any more; they can choose to adopt the national editions of instructional materials that contain accurate, reliable, and honest content, and the TEA is obligated by state law to pay for those materials. Social Studies supervisors in Texas school districts know this and they and their teaching colleagues will, I believe, make the right choice. Also, publishers will carefully make sure to explain the differences between the Texas and national editions of their history, government, and economics materials.

    • Charles
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Steve.

      “…radical extremists who have an extraordinarily distorted understanding of American history and government.”

      Your capacity for kindness never ceases to amaze me.

      I like “lamebrain nutjobs.”

  3. Charles
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    “A publisher agreed to delete “In the United States, everyone has a right to free public education” from a textbook after a critic argued that the sentence suggested education is an entitlement.”

    Well, all right. No more free public education. Let’s start now. In 18 years, we’ll check on the matter and see how many ENTITLED people we have roaming the streets.

    As the old commercial slogan from the late 1960s used to say, “Pay me now—or pay me later.”

    That “pay me later” is usually a huge bunch more money compared to that “pay me now.”

    Avez-vous de brains? Non. Nous n’avons pas de brains. Tell me about it.

    • Steven Schafersman
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      Charles is right. H.G. Wells wrote that “Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe.” Texas is sadly choosing catastrophe with eyes wide open.

      • David Washburn
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

        I once saw a bumper sticker in Austin years ago that said: Think education is expensive? Try ignorance.

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