State Board of Education Embarrasses Texas Again

by Dan Quinn

Some of you might have seen over the weekend a Facebook post — now gone viral — from a Houston mom who was shocked to see the Atlantic slave trade portrayed as a “migration” of “workers” from Africa in a new high school geography textbook. That textbook is one of scores of social studies textbooks adopted by the Texas State Board of Education last fall. The textbooks went into classrooms at the beginning of the current school year.

Over the weekend publisher McGraw-Hill acknowledged that the textbook passage about the African slave trade passage was misleading and said it would immediately move to correct it. Various news outlets have been reporting about this newest controversy involving Texas textbooks — another black eye for Texas.

We just sent out the following press release:

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller responded today to reports about how a new high school geography textbook mischaracterizes the slave trade as simply a migration of workers in American history:

“First of all, we are encouraged that the publisher is correcting this passage downplaying the history of slavery in the United States. But it’s no accident that this happened in Texas. We have a textbook adoption process that’s so politicized and so flawed that it’s become almost a punch line for comedians. The truth is that too many elected officials who oversee that process are less interested in accurate, fact-based textbooks than they are in promoting their own political views in our kids’ classrooms. So when they review these textbooks, they don’t even recognize distortions that mislead students and that drive scholars nuts.”

Miller’s comments come after publisher McGraw-Hill Education said that it will revise a passage in its new geography textbook that discusses migration in American history. The problematic passage refers to African slaves brought to North America between the 1500s and 1800s simply as “workers.” In fact, they were abducted and brought forcibly to the Americas as slaves.

How We Got Here
The new Texas textbooks are based on very controversial curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010. Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in a 2011 report, criticized those standards as a “politicized distortion of history.” The report noted that the standards downplay difficult topics like slavery and segregation while dismissing the history of separation of church and state and wildly exaggerating – even inventing – Biblical influences on the American founding.

Publishers submitted their new geography and other social studies textbooks based on those standards in 2014. University scholars the Texas Freedom Network worked with last year found that the history textbooks actually do a much better job handling the issue of slavery than the curriculum standards do. But even discussions of that topic get muddied at times.

Even more problematic, however, are textbook passages that suggest Moses and the Old Testament were major influences in the writing of the U.S. Constitution and on democratic political and legal traditions. Members of the State Board of Education had insisted, over the strenuous objections of constitutional scholars and historians, that such contentions be included in the curriculum standards and, subsequently, the new textbooks.

Those new textbooks went into Texas classrooms this fall. Because of the size of the textbook market here, publishers historically have written their textbooks to conform to the Texas curriculum standards and then sold those textbooks – revised as little as possible – in other states around the country.

Link to Fordham’s 2011 report on the curriculum standards:

The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots public education watchdog based in Austin.