The idea that a single state dictates what is included and excluded from public school textbooks around the country is a frightening one. What is even more frightening is the idea that those who determine this discourse are elected officials, members of political parties with their own distinct agendas—a single state, dictating what is taught to children across America, framing dialogue and choosing facts, all based on ideology first and reality second. The mere idea comes across as Orwellian. But it’s not just an idea. It is a reality. This state is Texas.
Texas holds this prestigious position for a number of reasons. It has the second largest number of textbook-reading school-aged children, nearly 5 million as of 2011 according to “The New York Review of Books.” The Texas School Board also sets very strict standards, only allowing its schools to purchase textbooks from a short list of board-approved titles.
According to former publishing house employee Julie McGee, “If you didn’t get listed by the state, you got nothing.” This encourages publishers to vie for the right to sell textbooks to Texan schools.
While California does have the largest number of textbook-reading school-aged children, its requirements for textbooks are far more specific to California, often requiring a California-centric narrative. By contrast, according to “The New York Review of Books,” estimates of nationwide textbook sales of books approved by Texas range from 50 to 80 percent.
What this means is simple: Texas sets standards for textbooks; publishers adhere to these standards for fear of losing the valuable Texas market; and, the rest of the country finds itself using these textbooks as a result.
With such great power comes great responsibility. One would assume that with the knowledge that they are dictating classroom discussions across the nation, the Texas School Board would work hard to ensure that their standards are set for top-notch, academic textbooks.
The previous head of the Texas School Board, Don McLeroy, said he has very strict standards for textbook evaluation.
“The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel,” McLeroy told “Washington Monthly” in 2009. He went on to say, “Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”
In 2009, the Texas School Board set standards for science textbooks. According to npr.org, these standards cast doubt on the theory of evolution, which led to a public outcry from scientists and science teachers across the nation.
Fortunately for schoolchildren across America, McLeroy’s term as chairman ended in early 2009. Unfortunately, in 2010 the Texas School Board decided to update its social studies standards. According to the “Austin Statesman,” these changes included:
• Asking high school students to explain “how economic freedom improved the human condition … compared to communist command communities.”
• Strengthening requirements on teaching the Judeo-Christian influences of the founding fathers.
• Adding language referring to “American exceptionalism,” and suggesting the free enterprise system functions best when unregulated.
Even without McLeroy’s guiding influence, his spirit lingers on. The “Austin Statesman” reported these changes were done without any consultation with experts, and drew the protest of over 1,200 college historians who signed a letter stating the standards distorted historical record.
According to the “New York Times,” these changes originally went even further, including casting famed Senator Joseph McCarthy in a more positive light. This is despite the view of most historians that McCarthy’s actions were jingoistic and fear-mongering. Another change proposed by board member David Bradley required students to learn about the “unintended consequences” of social programs such as Affirmative Action and Title IX.
This is completely unacceptable. There are 15 politicians, elected members of the Texas School Board, determining what is being taught to children across the country. These people are not experts in academic fields, and they ignore criticism and suggestions from those who are. These people are not educators. These people are politicians. They fight tooth and nail not to inform and educate students, not to present information based on knowledge, but to indoctrinate children with information based on beliefs.
This is objectionable, not because these people are conservative; there are plenty of reasonable assertions in conservative ideology, assertions based on facts, that should be presented to children alongside their liberal counterparts. This is objectionable because these people don’t care about children thinking for themselves, about presenting accurate and tested information, about teaching children critical skills they will need in our rapidly changing world. They care about their own political ideologies.