Politics, Curriculum and Textbooks

by Dan Quinn

The religious right doesn’t just target science and social studies when it comes to politicizing public school classrooms. The movement’s pressure groups attack education on a broad front, pushing a divisive agenda throughout the public school curriculum — including even reading and English classes. Educational Research Analysts, the old right-wing warhorse of the textbooks “culture wars” in Texas, makes that clear on its website.

ERA, founded by the late Mel and Norma Gabler in East Texas, lists on its website the criteria by which it judges the quality of reading textbooks. The heavy emphasis on phonics is predictable. But so are the requirements ERA establishes for content in reading programs. Among the group’s demands:

Equal stress on Europe’s literary, religious, and cultural heritage compared to other regions

Diverse views on current controversial issues, when raised (e.g., “global warming,” feminism, evolution)

No sensational violence, offensive language or illustrations, occultism, or deviant lifestyles (e.g., homosexuality)

No politically-correct stereotypes of oppressors and/or victims by race, class, creed, or gender

Those demands are typically translated to mean: textbooks should be Euro- and Christian-centric; reading passages that touch on hot-button issues such as evolution should include even fringe views on the right that have been widely discredited; gay and lesbian writers are objectionable, as are other writers and selections that don’t pass a conservative litmus test; and passages involving slavery, discrimination and the civil rights era should be white-washed. Those demands really define “political correctness” on the right today.

Such demands also help explain why the development of curriculum standards for reading and language arts classes in Texas three years ago turned into a bitter battle between educators and far-right members of the heavily politicized and deeply dysfunctional State Board of Education. Past adoptions of language arts textbooks have also been controversial, with far-right board members and pressure groups attacking textbooks that included writers and content they considered offensive for political or religious reasons.

Yet the adoption of language arts textbooks by the Texas state board last year and last month were relatively smooth affairs. That is partly a reflection of how publishers have succeeded in sanitizing their textbooks by avoiding the inclusion of anything the far right sees as controversial. Publishers also did that in 2004, submitting new health textbooks that didn’t include a shred of medically accurate information about condoms and other forms of responsible pregnancy and disease prevention.

All of that is why the Texas Freedom Network is wary about the state board’s planned adoption of classroom materials for science classes this coming spring. We’ll be ready. You can help by signing on to our Just Educate campaign to reform the State Board of Education and keep politics out of our children’s classrooms.