Exclusive: Texas Textbook Wars Would Affect All of Our Nation’s Students
by THE EDITORS
March 10, 2010
The Texas State Board of Education is considering history curriculum standards that would change the way certain events are taught to children – if they are taught at all. Contested subjects include the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, Reconstruction, and the Great Depression.
"While the Texas SBOE debates whether to include things like Christmas, Paul Revere and the Liberty Bell – some are calling the textbook showdown the newest frontline of the culture war in the U.S.
It's a battle Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, is watching closely, "Well, if you grab the minds of the young people you grab the minds of the next generation." Sekulow believes a child's school board meeting is the most important governmental event a parent can plug into. "Parents don't check their rights to raise their children at the door to the schoolhouse," Sekulow cautions. He knows the stakes are high this week in Texas because, "This curriculum, once established, will affect a generation of students - how they think."
The problem goes beyond the Texas border. Because Texas is the single biggest textbook consumer in the nation, what they say will have a tremendous impact upon what students all over the nation will be taught in history class (also known as “social studies”) in the years to come.
And it’s not just the fact that states like Texas – and California too – wield so much clout that should have Americans worried. The way textbooks are crafted has changed drastically in recent years. Rather than having historians and established authors write the content, textbook publishers bring in numerous freelancers in order to create their books more quickly (and perhaps more cheaply?). According to Dr. Frank Wang, one-time president of Saxon Publishing, it's become more of an "assembly line" system, rather than a carefully crafted "work of art." And Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, says, "There's no doubt that identity politics have contributed to the decline of textbook quality over the last twenty years," adding that an editor at a top publisher told him that the squeaky wheel gets the attention.
Among the myriad of “squeaky wheels” are Islamic activists who want as rosy a picture of Islam painted in textbooks as possible. Sewall has written extensively on this subject, and an important series of articles can be found here at FSM. Publishers, Sewall writes,
hire Islamic propagandists as ‘academic consultants’ and allow them to screen lessons.
Islamists and multiculturalists on and off campus are eager to restrict what is said about Islam in public schools. Middle East centers and associations can be ideological machines, promoting Islam with a caustic anti-Western spin. Left-wing historians are prominent in textbook authorship.
True, all religious groups try to use textbook politics and policies to their advantage. Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin - the three main educational publishers - are in the business of quieting the unquiet. But in the process, for fear of giving offense to professional injustice collectors and propagandists, history textbooks give a false picture - or no picture at all - of grave threats to the US and world.
This picture of Islam is accompanied by lost reverence for - or even interest in - Western achievement and power.
Of course, there is also the concern that simply not enough history is being taught in the classroom, leaving students with an incomplete picture of the history and culture of their nation.
Americans should keep their eye on the Texas textbook battle. It could mark a critical turning point in our educational system that may well shortchange students – our future leaders.