Texas Textbook Wars

With Rick Perry in the race for the presidency, you can be sure that liberals are going to bring up the Texas textbook wars. For nearly 40 years, Texas has been fighting yearly battles over textbooks for the simple reason that the choices Texas makes, the nation makes. The decision of the school board of Texas will most likely affect the textbook selection of your public schools in your state. Texas distributes 48 million textbooks every year. This is a huge market if you are a textbook publisher. While California is the nation’s largest textbook market, the state’s financial crisis has not made it a major player. New York and Illinois are also big markets. Any new textbooks are going to be tailored to fit with what the textbook adoption agencies decide in to do in Texas since Texas has money to purchase new textbooks. “The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country.”1

In 1998, under Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), curriculum guidelines were established. There is nothing wrong in establishing guidelines. But we need to be reminded that not everything can be put into a textbook. Some group of editors determines what goes in and what’s left out of a textbook. Then there are the interpretations that are written about the material that gets in. The choice of materials to include and the interpretations that go with them are inevitable.

The two biggest battles are over science and history guidelines. On the science side, some board members want to require science teachers to cover the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. How is such a guideline contrary to the scientific method? Why would anyone object to such a guideline? No one has ever seen evolution take place. Change within a species is not evolution. Think of dog, cattle, and horse breeding. As long as these types of breeding have gone on, they’re still dogs, cattle, and horses. No one was present when supposedly the first sign of biological life squirted its way out of the primordial soup. One of the first rules of biology is that abiogenesis, life originating from non-life, does not happen. And neither does something come from nothing. That’s why Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species and not On the Origin of Life. There is no empirical evidence that any species evolved into another species. Theorizing how it might have happened and showing an artist’s rendering of the postulation doesn’t make it scientifically valid. The theory begs to be questioned.

There are seven Christian conservatives on the Texas school board, and they are causing trouble for the educational establishment. “‘They do vote as a bloc,’ Pat Hardy, a board member who considers herself a conservative Republican but who stands apart from the Christian faction. ‘They work consciously to pull one more vote.’” And liberals have never done this? Give me a break. There is no neutrality. Liberals have had their way for so long that they don’t know how to deal with competition.

Long before these current battles, Mel and Norma Gabler scrutinized textbooks and wrecked havoc on the textbook industry for nearly 50 years. They got involved in reviewing textbooks when they found factual errors in their 14-year old son’s textbook, in particular, the absence of the phrase “under God” from the text of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Further study showed interpretive bias on economic, political, and religious subjects. Their most famous find was a 1973 fifth-grade American history textbook that devoted more attention to Marilyn Monroe than to George Washington. Norma Gabler remarked, “We’re not quite ready for Marilyn Monroe as the mother of our country.”

In 2001, Time magazine reported that their “scroll of shame” of textbook mistakes since 1961 was 54 feet long. In the early 1990s, Texas fined publishers about $1 million for failing to remove hundreds of factual errors the Gablers had found in 11 history books. An example: A textbook said that Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina had supported the tariff of 1816. He opposed it.2

The public schools have done a great job in shifting worldview thinking from theism to humanism right under the noses of parents who extol the virtues of America’s government education system. Consider how some textbooks handled the subject of religion in the founding of America prior to the Texas TEKS guidelines. One elementary school social studies book has thirty pages of material “on the Pilgrims,” Paul Vitz writes in his book on textbook censorship, “including the first Thanksgiving. But there is not one word (or image) that referred to religion as even a part of the Pilgrims’ life. One mother whose son is in a class using this book wrote . . . that he came home and told her that ‘Thanksgiving was when the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians.’ The mother called the principal of this suburban New York City school to point out that Thanksgiving was when the Pilgrims thanked God. The principal responded by saying ‘that was her opinion’—the schools could only teach what was in the books!”3

I suspect that the teaching of America’s Christian history has not improved much since Vitz did his study. School boards and textbook writers can’t hide the truth any longer. As Russell Shorto has to admit the following in his New York Times article “How Christian were the Founders?”: “There is . . . one slightly awkward issue for hard-core secularists who would combat what they see as a Christian whitewashing of American history: the Christian activists have a certain amount of history on their side.”4

Remember, whoever controls the schools rules the world.

  1. Russell Shorto, “How Christian were the Founders?,” New York Times (February 11, 2010): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html?em []
  2. Douglas Martin, “Norma Gabler, Leader of Crusade on Textbooks, Dies at 84,” New York Times (August 1, 2007): http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/01/education/01gabler.html []
  3. Paul C. Vitz, Censorship: Evidence of Bias in Our Children’s Textbooks (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1986), 3. []
  4. Shorto, “How Christian were the Founders?” []