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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.