New York Times columnist Gail Collins has a new book coming, As Texas Goes…, which looks at how right-wing politics and other shenanigans in Texas have hijacked public policy across the country. You can read two extended excerpts from Collins book (due out this month): one on the textbook wars here and another on sex education here. From the chapter on the textbook wars:
All the bickering and pressuring over the years has caused publishers to shy away from using the kind of clear, lively language that might raise hackles in one corner or another. The more writers were constrained by confusing demands and conflicting requests, the more they produced unreadable mush. Texas, you may not be surprised to hear, has been particularly good at making things mushy. In 2011, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, issued an evaluation of US history standards for public schools. The institute was a longtime critic of curricula that insisted that representatives of women and minorities be included in all parts of American history. But the authors, Sheldon Stern and Jeremy Stern, really hated what the Texas board had done. Besides incorporating “all the familiar politically correct group categories,” the authors said,
the document distorts or suppresses less triumphal or more nuanced aspects of our past that the Board found politically unacceptable (slavery and segregation are all but ignored, while religious influences are grossly exaggerated). The resulting fusion is a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge.
All around the country, teachers and students are left to make their way through murky generalities as they struggle through the swamps of boxes and lists. “Maybe the most striking thing about current history textbooks is that they have lost a controlling narrative,” wrote historian Russell Shorto.
And that’s the legacy. Texas certainly didn’t single-handedly mess up American textbooks, but its size, its purchasing heft, and the pickiness of the school board’s endless demands—not to mention the board’s overall craziness—certainly made it the trend leader. Texas has never managed to get evolution out of American science textbooks. It’s been far more successful in helping to make evolution—and history, and everything else—seem boring.
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter that examines the dominance of abstinence-only policies when it comes to sex education in Texas public schools:
The state has the third highest rate of teenage births in the country, and the second highest rate of repeat births to teenage girls. Sixty-three out of every 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years old becomes a mother. That compares to 5 out of 1,000 in the Netherlands, and 42 in the United States as a whole. Texas is also well ahead of Rwanda (44), Micronesia (51), and Egypt (50).
It doesn’t have to be that way. Back in 1992, California’s teen birth rate was about the same as that of Texas—74 births for every 1,000 women between 15 and 19, while Texas had 79. Then California committed to do something about the situation. California refused to take any money for abstinence-only education. It requires all of its public middle and high schools to teach HIV/AIDS prevention, in a way that stresses the superiority of the abstinence option while also giving kids all the facts about the importance of using condoms if one decides to be sexually active.
Collins then goes on to explain why the Texas obsession with failed abstinence-only programs has a national impact.