'This Planet is Great! — He Says We Qualify for Affirmative Action!'

In case you missed the news, the TFN Education fund on Wednesday released the results of a TFN-commissioned review of proposed social studies textbooks up for consideration by the Texas State Board of Education. The books, which will be voted on by the SBOE later this year, were reviewed by 10 scholars, including Dr. Emile Lester of the University of Mary Washington.

It is with Dr. Lester that we’ll begin today by going over just a few troubling examples of what the scholars found in their reviews.

Below is what Dr. Lester found on affirmative action in a Pearson Education textbook.

You can read Dr. Lester’s full review, and sign the petition calling for classroom materials that offer an honest, accurate portrayal of history and are free of political agendas, at tfn.org/history.

This summary of review findings has noted several times that the Pearson textbook occasionally displayed a tendency to prioritize ideology above a balanced treatment of opposing ideas. This tendency unfortunately is as, if not more, pronounced in the text’s treatment of affirmative action. Indeed, the textbook’s treatment of affirmative action verges on the offensive with its inclusion of two cartoons. One cartoon depicts two extraterrestrials in a spaceship that has recently landed on Earth. Gesturing toward a man in a suit and tie, one alien says to the other: “This planet is great!—He says we qualify for affirmative action!” The other cartoon depicts two aliens in a spaceship approaching Earth. One alien says to the other: “Relax, we’ll be fine. They’ve got affirmative action.” The question in the caption at the bottom of the cartoon is: “How is the cartoon suggesting that affirmative action would benefit the aliens?” By associating space aliens with beneficiaries of affirmative action, the cartoon seems to convey to students the implication that women and racial and ethnic minorities that receive affirmative action are somehow un-American or even perhaps less than fully human. The text does not have any counter-balancing cartoon that suggests to students possible reasons for supporting affirmative action.

The text also makes the ideological, unwarranted, and unsubstantiated prediction that “[i]t seems clear that the days of affirmative action programs are drawing to a close.” The evidence the text provides to support this claim is inadequate and lopsided. The text rests its claim in part on a Supreme Court case striking down an affirmative action policy (Ricci v. DeStefano) that was decided by a 5-4 margin. This means, of course, that the replacement of just a single Supreme Court justice could lead to very different outcomes in future cases regarding affirmative action. In addition, the federal government and state governments continue to maintain and even expand various types of affirmative action programs. To use just one recent example, in July 2014 Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order designed to expand contracting opportunities to small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses. It is also at least plausible to predict that the increasing proportion of minorities in the nation at large and in individual states could lead to greater public pressure for the adoption or maintenance of affirmative action policies. On a related note, defenders of affirmative action would argue that recent bans on affirmative action provide reason for voters to affirm the continued relevance of these programs. The University of Michigan claims, for instance, that minority enrollment dropped 33 percent from 2006 to 2012 after Michigan voters adopted the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (also known as Proposal 2) in 2006. In light of the text’s neglect to mention any evidence possibly contradicting its prediction, it is difficult not to suspect that this prediction, which has little pedagogical or descriptive value for students, is intended to persuade students about the illegitimacy of affirmative action.

This suspicion receives further confirmation from the inclusion of a clickable box that identifies states that have banned affirmative action. The caption accompanying this chart reads: “Affirmative action has been attacked most often in education…Why might states believe that banning affirmative action is beneficial to them from an economic standpoint?” The text does not include a similar chart identifying the states that have maintained affirmative action policies or one encouraging students to consider the possible economic and non-economic benefits of maintaining or expanding affirmative action. In addition, the sole textbook review question on affirmative action in this section further encourages students to question or oppose affirmative action. The multiple-choice question asks: “The Supreme Court applies strict scrutiny to affirmative action quotas because . . .” The correct answer is that “quotas make it impossible to choose individuals on a case-by-case basis.” The text provides no question suggesting why affirmative action programs might be consistent with the Constitution.

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