With the science textbook adoption mostly behind them, State Board of Education (SBOE) members are turning their attention to next year’s adoption of new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools. And we’re already seeing right-wing activists preparing to turn that adoption into another “culture war” battleground.
Circulating among tea party and other right-wing activists in the state, for example, is an email from a group called “Truth in Texas Textbooks” that asks recipients to volunteer to review the new textbooks. One activist forwarding the email explains that the group is “organizing conservatives to participate” in “reviewing Texas Social Studies textbooks for errors/bias.”
Of course, no one wants errors and bias in textbooks. And all Texans have the right to examine the new textbooks and offer their opinions about the content. But what kind of opinions can we expect from “Truth in Texas Textbooks”?
The groups’s email is signed by a retired Air Force Lt. Col. Roy White in Boerne near San Antonio. White was scheduled to speak on Nov. 14 to the Boerne Tea Party Patriots about the “Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in America.” According to the event announcement the Boerne Tea Party Patriots’ website:
“Currently, the Brotherhood is attempting, through the United Nations, to criminalize all speech that reflects negatively on Islam. Their aim is to force their ideology, bit by bit, on Americans.”
The website identifies White as a representative of ACT! for America, which it then describes this way:
“The group exposes the threat posed by Islamic ideology to our American culture and works to protect our freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Act! for America have been successful in challenging pro-Islamic and anti-western textbooks and in passing American Law for American Courts legislation in several states.”
Sigh. We’ve been to this rodeo before.
In 2010 the Texas SBOE adopted a formal resolution attacking Islam and falsely claiming that history textbooks have an anti-Christian and pro-Islamic bias. The specific claims were grossly misleading. Even so, the absence of two board members allowed the SBOE’s far-right faction to pass the divisive resolution by a single vote.
Some of the SBOE members who supported that anti-Muslim resolution are still on the board. So if activists affiliated with Act! for America are planning to turn the social studies textbook adoption into an extended episode of Muslim-bashing, they’re likely to find allies on the board.
So what’s the scoop on ACT! for America? Two years ago the Southern Poverty Law Center identified the group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, as part of an anti-Muslim inner circle of activists in the United States:
“A close look at their rhetoric reveals how doggedly this group works to provoke and guide populist anger over what is seen as the threat posed by the 0.6% of Americans who are Muslim — an agenda that goes beyond reasonable concern about terrorism into the realm of demonization.”
Here’s what the SPLC had to say about Gabriel:
“Gabriel views Islam in absolute terms as a monolithic threat to the United States, Israel and the West. She is prone to sweeping generalizations and exaggerations as she describes a grand, sophisticated Muslim conspiracy bent on world domination. Of the people profiled here, she alone has focused on building a grassroots organization, claiming 155,000 members and 500 chapters around the country. Questions persist about the accuracy of her autobiographical account of being a victim of Muslim militancy in Lebanon.”
And the SPLC lists some of Gabriel’s inflammatory quotes, including:
“The difference, my friends, between Israel and the Arabic world is quite simply the difference between civilization and barbarism. It’s the difference between good and evil and this is what we’re witnessing in the Arab and Islamic world. I am angry. They have no soul! They are dead set on killing and destruction.”
— From a speech delivered to the Rev. John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel Convention, July 2007
“Tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America, operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government. They are here — today. Many have been here for years. Waiting. Preparing.”
— ACT! for America website, undated
Local ACT! chapters have also engaged in smear campaigns, such as in opposition to the appointment of a Muslim university professor to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission in Florida back in 2010. ACT!’s vile rhetoric and actions do nothing but promote fear and hatred of an entire group of people simply because of their religious faith.
But Gabriel and ACT! supporters aren’t the only ones who fail to distinguish between real Islamic extremists and the majority of Muslims. We fear we’ll hear plenty of other voices as well during next year’s social studies textbook adoption. Will one of those intolerant and divisive voices be White’s? We’ll see, but his affiliation with ACT! for America isn’t encouraging.
Of course, anti-Muslim hysteria is likely to be only one of a number of politically charged topics during the social studies textbook adoption debate. Remember that the textbooks must be based on deeply controversial and heavily politicized curriculum standards the SBOE adopted in 2010. Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute criticized the SBOE’s far-right members for adopting what the Institute called a “politicized distortion of history” with “misrepresentations at every turn.”
Publishers will submit their new social studies textbooks for consideration in April. The final SBOE vote on the textbooks is scheduled for November 2014.