The Texas Textbook Tussle

THE TEXAS TEXTBOOK TUSSLE…. The Monthly has been keeping an eye on the Texas Board of Education over the last several months, which has been working on a social studies curricula steeped in conservative Republican ideology. It’s a rather remarkable story: board members — 10 Republicans to 5 Democrats — have recommended downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders, minimizing an “emphasis on multiculturalism,” and trying to “exonerate” Joe McCarthy.

The first draft of the standards mandated that Texans be taught to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority” — with no comparable progressive leaders or organizations.

In the new print edition of the Monthly, editor Mariah Blake has a great piece documenting the far-right players behind the Texas effort, which also emphasizes a point that’s often overlooked — Texans won’t be the only ones who suffer.

Battles over textbooks are nothing new, especially in Texas, where bitter skirmishes regularly erupt over everything from sex education to phonics and new math. But never before has the board’s right wing wielded so much power over the writing of the state’s standards. And when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas. The reasons for this are economic: Texas is the nation’s second-largest textbook market and one of the few biggies where the state picks what books schools can buy rather than leaving it up to the whims of local districts, which means publishers that get their books approved can count on millions of dollars in sales. As a result, the Lone Star State has outsized influence over the reading material used in classrooms nationwide, since publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers. As one senior industry executive told me, “Publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list.”

Until recently, Texas’s influence was balanced to some degree by the more-liberal pull of California, the nation’s largest textbook market. But its economy is in such shambles that California has put off buying new books until at least 2014. This means that McLeroy and his ultraconservative crew have unparalleled power to shape the textbooks that children around the country read for years to come.

And given that the Texas Board of Education appears to be led by unhinged right-wing activists with an insane worldview, it’s a problem with serious consequences.

For all the truly bizarre talk in September about President Obama wanting to “indoctrinate” America’s youth by encouraging them to do well in school, the reality is ultraconservative Texans fully intend to rewrite your kids’ textbooks. Check out Mariah’s piece.