Controversial Texas textbooks headed to classrooms

AUSTIN — Did Moses influence the Founding Fathers? Is all international terrorism linked to Islamist fundamentalists? Was slavery not a key contributor to the Civil War?

These are questions scholars say are raised by social studies textbooks headed for Texas classrooms that are misleading, racially prejudiced and, at times, flat-out false. The elementary and intermediate geography, history and U.S. government books were written according to a set of standards created by Texas education officials four years ago — called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills — that could potentially alter traditional learning methods, they say.

And it's not just a Texas issue. The state is so large that publishers commonly market the books made for Texas to other states, said Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education, a California-based non-profit group that has reviewed some of the books.

If approved by the state school board on Friday, these textbooks could trickle out to the rest of the country and be used in classrooms for the next decade, he said. It's the first time since 2002 the board will vote on the books.

"What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas,"Rosenau said. "All of these books, once they get through the process in Texas, are going to show up in other states."

The standards created by an education panel in 2010 and approved by the 15-member State Board of Education sparked a tempest of controversy at the time for adhering too strongly to creationist views and failing to separate church from state, among other criticisms. Some of the textbooks that arose from those guidelines, by such publishers as McGraw-Hill and Pearson, show an underlying political and ideological slant and historical inaccuracies, said Dan Quinn, of the Texas Freedom Network, a non-profit group which has criticized the process.

The group recruited academics from around the country to review 43 of the textbooks submitted in April by publishers and found a litany of inaccuracies and cultural biases, he said. Some of the publishers have corrected the passages in question, while others have not, Quinn said.

Emile Lester, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, took two months to review seven U.S. government textbooks intended for 12th-grade classrooms. He found a score of inaccuracies in five of those books, including passages that suggested the Ten Commandments had an influence on the writing of the U.S. Constitution and that Moses was a democratic leader who influenced the Founding Fathers, he said.

"These textbooks were teaching pretty much the opposite of the truth," Lester said. "You would hope publishers felt their main allegiance be to the education of students, but it was quite obvious that their main goal was to appease members of the State Board of Educators."

Spokesmen for Pearson and McGraw-Hill declined to comment.

Thomas Ratliff, vice chair of the Texas State Board of Education, said many of the members of the 2010 board who approved the guidelines have since been voted out of office and replaced by new members. Board members are elected through single-member districts and typically serve four-year terms. They preside over a school system consisting of 1,200 school districts, 8,200 campuses and 4.7 million schoolchildren.

The board is now in the precarious position of having to stick to the controversial guidelines while recognizing the inaccuracies, Ratliff said. "It was one of the lowest moments in recent history of the state board," Ratliff, a Republican who came into office last year, said of the 2010 vote. "We are in repair at the moment."

Ruben Cortez, a Democratic board member from Brownsville, said he was encouraged that three publishers in question agreed to make changes but was still concerned about some of the inaccuracies in the books. "We shouldn't be lying to our students," he said. "(Textbooks) need to be based on actual science and facts."

The most alarming passages Rosenau said he read in the books he reviewed were those that challenged the fact that humans are responsible for climate change. Although some of the publishers they approached with the inaccuracies made changes, others have not, he said.

"It's encouraging to see climate change in the social studies classroom. It certainly belongs there," Rosenau said. "It will be a shame if publishers shuck that responsibility and give misinformation to students."


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