The Texas Board of Education is considering 104 proposed social studies, history, geography and government textbooks that publishers have submitted for approval and use in public schools statewide. Much of the criticism is from left-leaning academics who say too much emphasis is placed on America's Christian tradition. The outcome has national implications because, as America's second most-populous state, Texas is such a large textbook market that it could affect books sold elsewhere. Here is some background on its book battle.
Q: What are critics saying about the books?
A: Academics say they exaggerated the role of religion in American Democracy and negatively portrayed Muslims. They pointed to one book that says, "Moses was a lawgiver and a great leader. Like the founders of the United States, he helped establish a legal system to govern his people. The Ten Commandments have been a guide and basis for many legal and moral systems throughout the world." But conservative activists also are faulting the books for failing to properly describe modern terrorism, saying America has a "living, growing Constitution," and being too bullish about renewable energy.
Q: Have Texas textbooks been controversial before?
A: There was considerable controversy when the Texas Board of Education approved new science books last year. In 2010, some Republican members crafted academic standards that emphasized conservative concepts, saying they countered inherent liberal biases in traditional classroom lessons. Those curriculums deemphasized the separation of church and state while highlighting the role of Christianity in the American Revolution. They also required students to evaluate whether the United Nations undermines U.S. sovereignty and study the GOP's 1994 Contract with America. The textbooks being considered this year must adhere to most of those curriculum standards.
Q: Is this unique to Texas?
A: No. According to the Association of American Publishers, about 20 states have boards or departments of education that approve books for classrooms use. But Texas' process has been especially contentious in previous years because of a strong bloc of Board of Education social conservatives who promoted Christian influence in history lessons and skepticism about climate change and natural selection in state science curriculums. The elected board now includes 10 Republicans and five Democrats, but has become more-moderate since 2010. Meanwhile, a 2011 Texas law allowed the state's more than 1,000 school districts to decide for themselves what materials to purchase. So far, though, most districts have continued to buy state-endorsed books.
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Q: Does this impact schools outside Texas?
A: Yes, though exactly how much is a matter of debate. Texas and it's more than 5 million public school students are one of the country's largest purchasers of textbooks, meaning changes in the writing for classrooms in the state could end up in the texts of books purchased elsewhere. However, publishers have long said that they begin with a base narrative for most textbooks and then modify it based on the needs of different states Technological advances also have made editing books for different markets easier, while giving states and sometimes even school districts more electronic choices that can suit their individual needs.
Q: When will this be resolved?
A: Not for months. The education board heard objections from the public at a hearing Tuesday, but won't vote to approve textbooks until its November meeting. New books will be distributed to schools at the start of the 2015-2016 school year.