Publishers Make Some Revisions to Texas Textbooks, But Big Problems Remain

So what’s been happening in the controversial social studies textbook adoption in Texas? Since the State Board of Education’s first public hearing on the adoption in September and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s release of scholarly reviews of the proposed textbooks, publishers have been considering changes to their textbooks. Today the state board met to hear publishers tell them what they plan to do, and TFN has had a chance to review those changes.

In short, publishers are making some good changes to address the legitimate concerns noted by our scholars. They also appear to be resisting pressure from right-wing groups and activists to insert more distortions and bias, particularly more information reinforcing negative stereotypes of Muslims. But the news is far from all good. Many problems remain, especially textbook passages that exaggerate, and even invent, religious influences on the American founding. We just sent out this press release:


Publishers Also Largely Appear to Be Resisting Demands from Extremists

October 20, 2014

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund today applauded select changes made to proposed Texas public school social studies textbooks, as well as publishers’ unwillingness to bow to pressure from extremist groups seeking to insert further distortions into the texts.

TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller cautioned, however, that numerous problems with the textbooks remain, and she renewed a call to publishers to correct biased and inaccurate content uncovered in a scholarly review of the textbooks sponsored by the TFN Education Fund.

Publishers briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed changes at a meeting in Austin today.

“We are glad that publishers are in some cases listening to the advice of scholars and qualified experts who have looked at these textbooks,” Miller said. “We are headed in the right direction, but there remain in the textbooks a number of biases and inaccuracies that should be corrected before the books can be approved by the State Board of Education.”

The TFN Education Fund in September submitted to publishers reports outlining various problems with the books. The reports, authored by scholars and doctoral students at top universities, found the textbooks contain serious distortions of history and contemporary issues on topics ranging from religion and democracy to the free enterprise system and affirmative action.

Some of the improvements made by publishers in response to the TFN Education Fund reports include improving coverage of world religions, clarifying that the issue of slavery was the major cause of the U.S. Civil War, and correcting discussions about the spread of Islam and Christianity over time.

Publishers have also ignored demands from extremist groups that want to use the textbooks to reinforce negative stereotypes about Islam. Instead, publishers have removed biased passages about Muslims identified in the TFN Education Fund report.

For selected examples of changes made to the books, as well as requests for changes rejected by publishers, see the list below.

However, problems remain in the textbooks. For example, passages that exaggerate the influence of Christianity on the nation’s founding are still in several of the books.

“These textbooks make Moses the original founding father and credit him for virtually every distinctive feature of American government,” Southern Methodist University history professor Kathleen Wellman said. “I believe students will believe Moses was the first American.”

The State Board of Education will vote on which textbooks to approve at its meeting in November. If approved, the textbooks will be in use in Texas public schools starting with the 2015-16 academic year and could remain in classrooms for the next decade.

Selected Examples of Publisher Corrections and Improvements

·      Social Studies School Service – World History

“Much of the violence you read or hear about in the Middle East is related to Jihad.”

Publisher Response: “We intend to address [this] by rewording the statement in question (and surrounding text) to eliminate generalizations regarding the causes of violence in the Middle East.”

·      Pearson Education – Texas History

Causes of the Civil War 

Publisher Response: “Pearson will make the following correction: ‘In fact most historians agree that the major reason for disagreement about states’ rights was the determination of white southerners to maintain slavery. The economies of Texas and other southern states depended on slavery. The structure of these societies rested on slavery. All white people achieved some status in society simply because they were free.’”

·      Discovery Education – United States History (Civil War-Present)

Inadequate job discussing the relationship between the Enlightenment and Declaration of Independence

Publisher Response: “The page describes John Locke in depth and provides links to Glossary Terms on enlightenment ideas, including the social contract and natural rights. Additional video content will be added to the page to provide more context.”

·      Discovery Education – United States History (Civil War-Present)

Description of spread of Catholicism in Latin America “soft pedals” conquest

Publisher Response: “We will add text to clarify the role that conquest played in conversion.”

·      Cengage  – World Geography and Culture (Grade 6)

Description: The text suggests inaccurately that Islam spread only by conquest.

Publisher Response: Revise passage to read, “In the centuries after Muhammad’s death, Muslims spread their religion by conquest, through trade, and through missionary work.”

Selected Examples of Publisher Rejection of Extremist Demands to Introduce Bias/Inaccuracy

·      Worldview Software – World History

Demand: “Half Truth: To portray any hypothesis or theory [like evolution] as fact is a clear misapplication of the scientific method. Hypotheses must be falsifiable through observation and reproducible experimentation to be considered a legitimate participant in the scientific method.”

Publisher Response: “WorldView is following current and standard usage of the terms in question. From the National Academy of Sciences: ‘Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?’  It is both… No changes envisioned to the text.”

·      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – World History Studies

Demand: “Factual Error: Islam wasn’t ‘revealed’ until 610 A.D. Muslims began invading nations 156 years after Rome fell (632 A.D.), and they had (and have) no respect for knowledge, so if anything was left, they wouldn’t have cared to save it. Islam does not believe in preserving; exactly the opposite, in fact, in its belief that everything pre-Allah is corruption of truth and they must rip it up or tear it down.”

Publisher Response: Publisher agreed to clarify the timeline but did not agree to add distorted anti-Islam content promoted by the reviewer.

·      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – World Geography Studies

Demand: “Omission of Fact & Half Truth: Does not stress the dangers, oppression, and lack of freedoms that Communism always brings. ‘Benefits’ is not a correct word when using the word Communism. The word ‘benefits’ insinuates good things. Communism brings nothing good. This should be brought up in this section [on Cuba].”

Publisher Response: “Use of the word ‘benefits’ to describe the provision of education and health care under communism is appropriate.”

·      Pearson Education – Contemporary World Cultures

Demand: “For the Islamists jihad does not mean ‘the struggle to be a better person.’ It does not mean ‘violent struggle.’ It means holy war with the intent of spreading Islam throughout the world.”

Response: “This is not a factual error. The term has more than one meaning. It can be interpreted as the struggle to be a better person and as violent struggle in the form or holy war with the intent to spread Islam.”

·      Worldview Software – World History

Demand: “[Marcus Garvey] He stirred pride in African history? He stirred racism in America… Black people in America are known as Americans just as white people, red people, etc. To distinguish this person as a ‘Notable Person’ is appalling.”

Publisher Response: “No changes envisioned to the text.”

4 thoughts on “Publishers Make Some Revisions to Texas Textbooks, But Big Problems Remain

  1. While TFN has done a great job at SBOE, I believe that the changes which are taking place are due to the collective effort of not just TFN, but should also allow credit to MALDEF, IDRA, Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Org, TLEC and others. Together – we can do more….. a lot more. Placido Salazar, Dr.Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Org

  2. I agree with Mr. Salazar, and I also applaud your efforts, and those of the many others who have been vocal in resisting the distortion of our history, and science texts, including Mr. Aron Ra, Texas state director of American Atheists.

    This is a fight we must continue to wage.

    1. David and Placido. I do not speak for TFN, but I will offer an opinion here.

      TFN Insider has regular followers and occasional kibitzers all over Texas and outside of Texas who support TFN and its work in various ways. When TFN pats itself on the back for its hard work, it is talking directly to “family members” who support TFN with their time and/or money. Sometimes it is good to interact with the “home team” in that sort of way. Doing that does not necessarily mean that other cooperating organizations and operations outside of TFN are being slighted or minimized with regard to the good work they do and their cooperation with TFN. I feel sure that TFN deeply appreciates and acknowledges your fine work and cooperation.

      Sometimes you just need to have a talk with your family rather than the whole world. Feel free to toot your own horns about your good works, and I bet that TFN would agree with your toots and not think ill off them.

  3. Some of the comments about Islam are fascinating. One problem that should be addressed is the assumption that ANY religion — other than a small, single congregation cult — is one unified thing, all groups alike or with only superficial differences.
    This is nonsense, of course, even if you limit your view to one ‘point in time.’ If you expand it over time, as a historian needs to do, well, perhaps the best thing a teacher could ask a student to do is to find the common threads among such disparate groups as, say, 700 A.D. Irish Catholics, post-Reconquista Catholics in Spain, mid-19th Century American Catholics — rejected and feared by the Protestant majority, desperately holding on to their own identity through their own schools, or even the Catholics who respected John XXIII’s opening and those who sought the conservatism and (theoretical) unchangeability that Paul VI and John Paul II spoke for.

    Similar statements could be made about Protestant Christianity, Judaism, even Buddhism.
    The variation in Islam is as great, now or over time. In Medieval times, Islam was by far the most scientific, most open, and most cultured civilization in the world. Then, with the ‘closing’ of Islam by the ulemma and then the depredations of Genghis Khan it became, at least in some places, almost as anti-intellectual as late-19th Century American Fundamentalist Protestantism was, or as today’s similar Protestantism is — in some areas.
    Yes, there are some Islamic groups — mostly Selafist — that do hold that ‘nothing pre-Mohammed matters, and that see any respect for historical monuments to be a form of idolatry that needs to be smashed. (Some of those groups would even destroy Mohammed’s tomb as being an idol that could distract people from the attention that only God (Allah — same thing) should be given.)
    Maybe there should be more concentration on whether the necessary generalizations that a pre-College course needs to have in fact clarify the student’s understanding, or if the teacher and textbooks need to make it plain to the students that what is being taught IS nothing more than a first step to understanding any subject that is covered. (I have heard it said that “The first thing to do in high school is to unlearn what you learned in grammar school — then college takes you through the same thing over the simplifications that were still necessary in high school.”)