Black Americans and Latinos make up more than half the student population in Texas schools, but they came perilously close to having the contributions of Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez excluded from textbooks statewide.
The Texas State Board of Education voted earlier this month on sweeping changes in textbooks that will affect not only students in the Lone Star state, but in much of the rest of the country as well.
The 15-member board agreed to include Marshall, the first African-American on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Chavez, a civil rights and labor activist, but insisted that textbooks include language stating that Title IX, which ensured equal gender access to educational resources, and Affirmative Action had created negative “unintended consequences.”
Just four states – California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina – influence much of what students nationwide see in their textbooks because of the size of their student population and the money the states spend on textbooks. Because the cost of tailoring content for every state would be astronomical, publishers tend to go with changes recommended by the states that spend the most on textbooks.
Of the 15-member Texas State Board of Education, only two or three are educators. Ten of the board members are conservative, seven of them extremely so. And the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on textbooks.
“Texas is the second-largest purchaser of textbooks in the country,” said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, an organization that opposes textbook censorship.
“The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State,” according to a recent story in The New York Times Magazine.
Further, Texas was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own, The Times reported.
Quinn told BlackAmericaWeb.com that textbook committees can make global changes on the interpretation of language or how an era of history can be viewed down to small changes.
For example, McGruder’s “American Government” has been one of the most commonly used textbooks in the country for generations.
“They invented the term ‘living constitution,’” Quinn said, meaning that the Supreme Court has interpreted how the Constitution applies to current situations. Conservatives on the book committee, however, view that term as indication of judicial activism – what they see as a practice by liberals to distort what the framers intended – and forced a change of the phrase to “enduring constitution.”
“Their idea is to change the Constitution, you need an amendment, but the thing is they didn’t have the Internet in 1787 when they wrote the Constitution, so does that mean you need a constitutional amendment that says the Internet is covered by freedom of the press?” asked Quinn.
Conservatives also argue that they are merely balancing what they view as a liberal agenda that has been imposed on students for years.
“Agents of change, almost by definition, are not conservative. This is not taught, as this is a liberal accomplishment. They want to expressly call out conservative history, conservatives figures just because they are conservative,” Quinn said.
“The standards are being changed, but these are sort of thematic,” Quinn said. “They are changing the ways of looking at society from a much more conservative perspective rather than scholarly – that minorities and women should thank the majority for their rights. It’s sort of a way of minimizing the struggles women went through to get the right to vote and the struggles African-Americans and Latinos went through for civil rights.
“Their attitude is, yeah, they may have brought it up, but civil rights activists didn’t force the issue; it was the majority deciding to pass the legislation that made it happen,” he said.
The Texas Freedom Network contends it is important to present a broad perspective that is neither conservative nor liberal in its leaning, but provides a wide and accurate range of the historical figures and situations that have shaped the U.S.
The textbook controversy, Quinn said, has gotten Texans to pay more attention to who sits on the state school board and has led to election challenges for some incumbents. Further, the Texas Freedom Network has launched “Just Educate,” a campaign to unite business owners, parents, lawmakers and professionals to take up education policy issues with lawmakers and pressure them to review the powers of the state board of education.