Troubling Tomes: Texas State Board Of Education Votes To Approve Biased Textbooks

Zack Kopplin

On Friday, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 10-5 to approve 89 new social studies textbooks for use in public classrooms. The vote, which split cleanly on party lines, ends public hearings on the subject. But controversy over the books’ content is likely to linger: Critics allege the books contain multiple errors and exaggerations designed to portray the United States as a fundamentally Christian nation.

As reported previously in Church & State, the textbooks as proposed overplayed the influence of Mosaic law on the Founding Fathers, cast doubt on the constitutionality of separation of church and state and skewed discussions of existing legal precedent on prayer in schools. Although publishers did make many corrections to the books – such was watering down inflammatory and inaccurate information about Islam – “Christian nation” myths unfortunately remain in the material.

And that’s thanks to the SBOE, which in 2010 passed a series of curriculum standards that mandated instruction that emphasized the country’s Christian heritage. Those standards, and the flawed review process itself, finally proved too much for one publisher. According to the Texas Tribune, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt pulled its government textbook from consideration after being asked to “add greater coverage of Judeo-Christian influence – including Moses – on America’s founding fathers.”

The SBOE also rejected curriculum from WorldView Software, and there’s evidence the decision was politically motivated. Prior to the final vote, WorldView issued a strongly worded statement in response to public testimony from Barbara Lamontagne, who informed the SBOE last week that the material called the late General Douglas MacArthur “racist” and lionized communist figures at the expense of President Ronald Reagan.

WorldView slammed the comments as “very serious and patently false allegations” and noted that Lamontagne admitted in her testimony that she had not read the material before preparing her remarks. Despite this, the SBOE ruled that WorldView had not done enough to address her criticisms, and rejected the company’s curriculum.

Even without the Houghton Mifflin Harcout and WorldView materials, the SBOE had hundreds of pages of edits to review in less than a week. As a few members noted, the vote’s timing made it impossible for the SBOE to read all edits under consideration. But a motion to delay the final vote failed, rejected by the fundamentalist Christian officials who dominate the board.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), slammed the review process in a press statement. “And once again the state’s process for approving textbooks was revealed to be a sham, as state board members voted for last-minute changes that they had never even read,” she said. “Those changes were approved without any input whatsoever from historians and experts.”

TFN had appointed its own review panel to identify errors and suggest corrections in the books. Scholars expressed serious concern over the books’ slant, only for those concerns to be largely dismissed by the SBOE.

Americans United also opposed the books. We launched a petition in partnership with TFN and People For the American Way; our organizations combined collected over 30,000 signatures to demand that publishers produce accurate textbooks for Texas students.

Activist Zack Kopplin testified on our behalf before the SBOE earlier this month to reiterate our concerns that the books presented a flawed, fundamentalist version of American history with little to no basis in evidence.

The SBOE didn’t respond kindly to Kopplin’s testimony, with one member asking him if he’d been paid to testify (the answer, of course, is no).

With the board’s vote, the textbooks are set to enter public classrooms in 2015, where they will be used for the next decade. Local school districts do have the option to reject the books and use alternative curriculum, a move recommended on Friday by moderate members of the SBOE. Based on the evidence, it’s a move we recommend as well.

It’s clear that the SBOE has carefully constructed curriculum standards and a shoddy review process designed to erode the separation of church and state. Unfortunately, their latest victory means that thousands of students will receive biased and inaccurate information about the development of our democracy. And that, of course, has been the SBOE’s goal all along: Indoctrinating “culture warriors” has officially taken precedence over preparing students for higher education and work.