Textbooks Heavier Than Usual

Last Friday, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 7-6 to implement a resolution to censor “pro-Islamic distortions” from world history textbooks in public schools. The measure was drafted and submitted by Randy Rives, a candidate for the SBOE who lost the elections last spring.

The resolution contends that a “pro-Islamic/ anti-Christian bias has tainted some past Texas Social Studies textbooks,” demonstrated by how the books dedicate 120 text lines to Christian beliefs, but 248 (more than twice as many) to those of Islam.

Additionally, it argues that the textbooks “sanitize” Islam while “demonizing” Christianity, and that such biases result when “Middle Easterners buy into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly.”

Proponents of the measure, like the board chairwoman, Gail Lowe, believe the resolution will guard against what they term as “a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.” Eliminating the pro-Islamic bias, she reasons, will ensure a balanced treatment of the groups.

“There’s a problem and this resolution brings attention to it,” said Don McLeroy, a member of the board and supporter of the motion. “Academia wants to lean over backwards to be politically correct and not be labeled ethnocentric, so it’s kind of a cultural relativism.”

According to the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit organization that promotes religious freedom, these claims are misleading. A published investigation of the measure reveals that the resolution overlooks entire passages that explore Christianity, including sections about the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Reformation and the Renaissance. The analysis goes on to point out that while top-ranking educational publishers such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson are Irish and British companies, respectively, neither has been charged with “sneaking pro-British or pro-Irish propaganda into American textbooks.”

Ultimately, adopting the resolution could severely detract from the quality of education the Texan public school system provides.

“It is critical for American students to understand world history, which also includes the role of religions and religious ideologies, in order to become effective co-participants in democracy with others who do not share the same religion,” said Dr. Judi Conroy, director of Teacher Education and Student Affairs at the University of California, Irvine. “The Texas motion seems to work against this notion.”

Despite the repercussions, because Texas has one of the largest textbook markets in the nation, the state’s demands have a substantial effect on publishing companies. Consequently, publishers are likely to cater to the board’s sensitivities, according to Lorraine Shanley, a principal with the publishing consultant firm Market Partners International.

“If you don’t play by the rules set by the state, you don’t play,” Shanly said. “So it’s not quite the same as being a trade book publisher where a store won’t take your books because they are too risqué.”

Should publishers revise world history textbooks to comply with the board’s resolution, the adjusted textbooks will likely impact curriculums in other states. Nonetheless, prospective state boards tasked with deciding on state textbooks are not lawfully required to follow the non-binding resolution.

“It all comes down to what your values are — whether you want to preserve isolationism and ignorance or promote tolerance and diversity,” said Dr. David S. Meyer, professor of sociology at UCI. “I would like to believe that tolerance and diversity are American values.”