Live-Blogging the Texas Social Studies Textbooks Public Hearing

by Dan Quinn

You can watch today’s public hearing at the State Board of Education live online here.

3:50 – The board hearing just ended. Board members will discuss the textbooks tomorrow (Wednesday). We’ll be here.

3:47 – Cargill and other board members keep arguing that nothing can be done about the flawed curriculum standards adopted in 2010. So in their view, the flawed textbooks get a free pass because the flawed standards they are based on are already on the books. Huh?

3:43 – Patty Quinzi from the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, compliments TFN for asking respected scholars to review the proposed textbooks. We appreciate that. It’s too bad state board members didn’t ensure that more than a tiny handful of university scholars served on the official state review teams.

3:38 – Emile Lester, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington who reviewed proposed government textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, is up. As he does in his report for us, Lester expresses concerns about how textbooks exaggerate religious influences — especially Moses — on the American founding and the Constitution. No one challenges his points.

3:17 – Zach Kopplin, a science advocate and member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, offers even more criticism of textbooks that would teach students that Moses influenced our nation’s constitutional structure. He also knocks the climate change denialism in the textbooks.

3:00 – Charles Jackson, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, criticizes inaccurate textbook coverage casting doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a serious and growing threat.

2:55 – Saenz (with support from board members like Mercer) insists that TFN wants textbook to ignore the opinions of folks who oppose separation of church and state. No, we simply want textbooks to tell students the truth: that separation of church and state is a foundational, constitutional principle recognized by our nation’s founders and the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of the textbooks, as written, simply don’t do so.

2:45 – Board member Mercer declares that publishers have a responsibility to the state board, not to anyone else — including, apparently, citizens, scholars and organizations with concerns after reviewing the new textbooks. Now we have a running conversation between Mercer and Saenz about how terrible it is for TFN to have asked scholars to weigh in on the adoption process.

2:39 – Saenz’s argument in short: TFN is wrong because we didn’t have enough votes in 2010 to keep the board from vandalizing the curriculum standards and inserting historically inaccurate requirements in those standards.

2:31 – Jonathan Saenz, the attorney lobbyist who heads up the far-right group Texas Values, is up to speak. Saenz decides to spend his two minutes attacking TFN and our scholars’ reviews of the textbooks. Says he doesn’t want to see publishers pressured into rewriting textbooks to reduce the importance of Christianity in American history. We’re wondering who he’s talking about. In fact, TFN has not asked publishers to do anything of the kind. We’ll just say it plainly: Jonathan Saenz has trouble telling the truth.

2:28 – James Caneiro, a Texas State University student, adds his voice to those criticizing Pearson’s government textbook for its troubling treatment of affirmative action.

2:19 – More confusion from board members about just what the rules are for the textbook review process. Fortunately, board member Tom Maynard cuts through the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and makes it clear that folks testifying today should be assured that their concerns will be heard and considered by the board and publishers. But we want board members to insist that they know what changes publishers are making before voting on whether to adopt the textbooks in November.

1:51 – Kathleen Wellman, a professor of history at SMU in Dallas, is up. She volunteered to serve as an official state reviewer, but she was one of the more than dozen scholars who were not appointed to the state panels. Wellman takes aim at the requirements that Moses and the Judeo-Christian thought influenced the American founding and constitutional and legal system. She flatly rejects these requirements as “ahistorical” and calls the textbook passages about them overt factual errors: “The most problematic is Moses, who shows up everywhere [in the textbooks] doing everything.” She suggests that the publishers tried to conform to the flawed requirements without really knowing how to do so. Board member David Bradley asks whether Wellman is affiliated with and compensated by TFN. Her (entirely accurate) answer is no to both. Bradley’s continuing petty attempts to suggest that scholars are influenced by TFN rather than having formed their own professional opinions in their many years of research, writing and teaching are not surprising.

1:33 – Testimony is resuming after a lunch break.

12:36 – TFN President Kathy Miller is up to testify. She notes that more than a dozen scholars at Texas colleges and universities did not get appointed to the textbook review panels. Why? And now she’s cut off by board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, saying that testimony should focus only on the textbooks, not the flawed process for adopting them.

12:19 – Testifier criticizes the inaccurate textbook passages about the influence of Moses on the American legal system and constitutional structure of government.

12:16 – Once again, state board members seem confused by their own review process and how it is conducted (through Texas Education Agency staff). Let’s be clear here: the state’s official review process is deeply flawed and simply can’t be trusted. It includes few scholars (and many review panels have none), and they met in person to review the social studies textbooks for just a week. Our scholars worked for three months to review the textbooks.

12:10 – Ron Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at SMU in Dallas, is up. He echoes concerns voiced earlier by Chris Rose, who testified this morning, about the use of archaic and potentially offensive language identifying racial categories in one of the textbooks. Rose reviewed a number of world history textbooks for the TFN Education Fund.

12:00 p.m. – Another testifier is upset about the replacement of AD and BC with CE and BCE. And she thinks the social studies textbooks portray evolution as a fact. Human beings didn’t evolve from a bug, she says.

1:40 – David Brockman, a Christian theologian who teaches religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth and reviewed the textbooks for the TFN Education Fund, is up to speak. He’s concerned about a lack of balance in the textbooks in the coverage of world religions, particularly Islam and Christianity. The example he offers in the two minutes allotted to his testimony: of the textbooks portray Islam as a particularly violent religion that spread only by violence, which is inaccurate. The role that force and violence sometimes played in the spread of Christianity is ignored, on the other hand. He also tries to correct the record on what jihad really means. Board member David Bradley suggests TFN — which hired Brockman to conduct his reviews — is an “ideological organization.” He claims TFN has filed two court briefs calling for the removing the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms. Simply not true.

11:14 – Another speaker, Dr. Amy Jo Baker, insists that textbook aren’t telling the truth about Islam (jihad! Sharia law! Muslim Brotherhood! Islamic terrorism!) and American exceptionalism. This will almost certainly be a recurring theme throughout the day. “Communism, Nazism and Islamic terrorism is diametrically opposed” to what makes America exceptional, she says. She’s also critical of textbooks using CE and BCE instead of AD and BC for historical dates. She calls the change “politically correct” and biased. Board member Mavis Knight notes (accurately) that CE and BCE are typically used in academia. Baker explains that this is an issue of being “historically accurate” or “politically correct” and “leftist.” Those who want to use CE and BCE want to hide “the significant role Christianity has played in the history of the world.”

11:08 – A testifier notes a textbook discussion in one of the textbooks (McGraw-Hill geography) includes factually inaccurate discussions of Sikhism, including the religion’s origins. How could the state review teams miss that? Maybe because so few content experts were appointed to serve on them. So much for the wonderful review process Cargill and her colleagues brag about.

11:06 – Cargill argues that state law requires the public school curriculum materials to promote the free enterprise system. Yes, it does. But it doesn’t require those materials to lie to students.

11:04 – Board member Mercer misleadingly argues that curriculum writers “crossed out” discussions of free enterprise in early drafts of the curriculum standards. No, the fact is that curriculum writers wanted to call our economic system capitalism. Mercer is rewriting history.

10:55 – Dr. Jacqueline Jones, chair of the University of Texas History Department, is speaking now. She’s focused on the Pearson American history textbooks. She’s particularly concerned with the way the texts discuss the free enterprise system. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has criticized what it calls the uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system in the state’s curriculum standards (failing to include, for example, sufficient discussion of the role government has played in our economic system and the economic development of the United States). Jones sees that problem reflected in the Pearson textbooks as well. College students are encouraged to understand that America’s history is “a complicated story,” not a simplistic one, Jones explains. High school students should be prepared for that. Jones notes that the Pearson textbook follows the state curriculum standards very closely on this topic, resulting in an ideologically biased discussion.

10:51 – Frank Mayo, head of a group (him and an email account, we think) called Texans for Superior Education, is up. During the science textbook last year, Mayo was an evolution critic. Lately, Mayo has been promoting the argument that AP U.S. History courses have been taken over by Common Core and the great world conspiracy to do… something, we’re not entirely sure. We’re not sure what he’s trying to say this morning. State board members seem confused as well.

10:48 – State board members themselves seem confused about the process for reviewing and adopting textbooks — the process members like Barbara Cargill have bragged about in the past.

10:40 – Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, just finished promoting the fiction that state curriculum writers four years ago wanted to keep study of the Holocaust out of social studies classrooms. The man is shameless.

10:15 a.m. – We’ll be here today reporting on the State Board of Education’s public hearing on the proposed social studies textbooks. Two of the board’s far-right members, David Bradley and Barbara Cargill (board chair), have already warned testifiers that they won’t tolerate testimony criticizing the deeply flawed curriculum standards adopted by the board in 2010. They want testifier to discuss just the content in the textbooks — despite the fact that the textbook content is directly tied to the flawed standards themselves. How convenient.

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