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Is the Trend of Trashing Textbooks in Texas Going National?
August 31, 2002
By John F. Borowski

Remember this phrase: “ Texas is clearly one of the most dominant states in setting textbook adoption standards,” according to Stephen Driesler, executive director of the American Association of Publisher’s school division. And this November the Texas school board inflamed by the anti-environmental science rhetoric by the likes of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy and Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) may bring Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” to life. Recall that “Fahrenheit 451” (the temperature at which paper bursts into flames) depicts a society where independent thought is discouraged, wall- to- wall television and drugs sedate a numb population and “firemen” burn books.

With a nearly $600 million budget for textbook purchases Texas is second only to California, and the potential for gutting environmental and social science books to their core is frightening. With over 200 social and ecological science books up for the review this November the Republican-dominated state board of education and their “flat earth friends” at TPPF look to eviscerate topics such as global warming, acid rain and rampant population growth from textbooks. And if the recent past is a mirror of the future, Texas politics may create a firestorm nation-wide.

This past fall “book nazis” at the TPPF, led by Republican Senator Phil Gramm’s wife (Wendy) and Peggy Venable, director of the 48,000 member Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, put several environmental textbooks in their “crosshairs.” Environmental Science: Toward a Sustainable Future, published by Massachusetts-based publisher Jones and Bartlett was canned due to political “incorrectness.” Ms. Venable stated, “the textbook focuses on an environmental crisis that we believe doesn’t exist,” she added, “They go into detail saying paganism is better for the environment than Christianity.” Apparently Ms. Venable chooses to ignore an 8 million square mile ozone hole, a human population that adds a net increase of almost 200,000 people a day and like her proud president, believes that the 100-plus countries attending the “Earth Summit” in South Africa are wasting their time. Two other books were suspect: Environmental Science: How the World Works and Your Place in It, by Lebel Enterprises and Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment, by Kendall Hunt Publishing. Instead of standing tall for intellectual freedom and the noble pursuit of creating an ecologically literate young citizenry, these books by profit-minded publishers went “belly-up.” They made changes and mortgaged off their credibility in the eyes of many in the education field. To his credit, Michael Stranz, editor-in-chief at Jones and Bartlett Publishers stood tall and defiant. “If there are errors of fact, we will make changes, but we will not make changes to adhere to a political agenda.” Apparently the Jones and Bartlett text will not been seen in Texas schools and the students and teachers are the real losers. Nationwide, Lebel and Kendall Hunt have created a domino effect that bears ominous tidings.

TPPF Education Research Director Chris Patterson gleefully testified before the State Board of Education on November 8, 2001, and the news was terrifying. She glibly explained how major publishers, some of the biggest giants in the academic field, have lined up to be co-conspirators in this attempt to censor textbooks. Industry giant Holt, Rhinehart and Winston Publishers were akin to willow trees bending in a hard wind. “I want to extend my thanks for [TPPF’s] input into this year’s science textbook adoption process…The review done by your organization has been a valuable contribution to the overall process of ensuring the best possible science learning materials in our schools,” said John Lawyer, Senior Vice President. Others soon followed: “Texas Public Policy Foundation was willing to work with all publishers on the textbook review process to improve the books” — Glencoe, McGraw Hill. “We have responded to all of TPPF’s comments, including those classified as inaccuracies, bias or omissions” — Julia Fellows Osborne, Editorial Director, Prentice Hall.

These “purveyors” of the truth should hold their collective heads in shame and include an introduction in each book that outlines their deal with the devil. Emboldened by the success of their search and destroy mission, TPPF will look to remove the history from social science books this fall.

If a “Texas Federation of Republican Women’s Issues and Actions newsletter” is any indication of what the 2002-2003 school year is going to spawn…look out. Parts read like a noble declaration, “During the last few months, a small group of people here in Texas has been fighting valiantly against a dangerous but very subtle, threat to our nation from within. These Texas heroes are trying to prevent science textbooks from being approved by the State Board of Education that are full of error, unsupported extremist environmental bias and the occasional anti-American rhetoric.” These folks look to turn America back to the more bucolic times of racism, McCarthyism and pure denial of the truth. Along with their friends at TPPF and Ms. Venable’s “Sound Economy” clan, the Federation has a list of complaints against social science books:

  • “Too many” pictures of minorities in books;
  • Slavery is portrayed “too negatively” in history books;
  • Women depicted carrying briefcases run counter to their idea of family values;
  • There is an “anti-settler” bias in many books.

Maybe Texas history classes should simply watch John Wayne movies to learn about those “Indian savages” and “Little Black Sambo” books could put a happy face on slavery and years of racial segregation.

No, what this nation faces is a whole sale “white washing” of environmental data and history. If textbooks are neutered, by powerful interests how can our children face ecological challenges and make wise problem solving decisions? Will we allow our children to ignore the slaughter of over 2 million Native Americans in less than 100 years? History cannot be re-written to soothe the conscience of those who scoff at an American history tarnished by racism and clandestine government follies. Being able to analyze the past and recognizing errors by our forefathers makes our nation stronger, not weaker. We all know that the “curse of man is that he forgets.”

Add to this the growing intrusion of multinationals into education: forest education by Weyerhaeuser and Project Learning Tree (a pet timber curricula), ocean health by Exxon and the non-perils of genetically modified foods by Monsanto and the dark vision of “Fahrenheit 451” seems possible.

A passage from Mr. Bradbury’s book provides a fine summation of the situation. “ So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality.”

We as parents, defenders of the constitution and the vigilant flame-keepers of the light of democracy must rise to meet the challenge. Contact Glencoe, McGraw-Hill, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Prentice Hall and RonJon Publishing and demand that they act like elders, not obsequious lapdogs to zealots. Contact and become familiar with your local board of education and ask about textbook adoption policies. Newspapers should be flooded with opinion pieces and “dear editor” pieces urging Texas school board officials to climb out of their caves of ignorance and embrace textbooks that encourage free thought and debate. School boards nationwide should reject the policy of the giant textbook publishers to accommodate the manipulation of the truth and knock on the doors of publishers like Jones and Bartlett or others who stand behind the data they provide…uncensored and unscripted.

We should follow the words of Alfred Whitney, “Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.”

It is easy to sit back and simply state that, “Texas and their book heretics can go to hell.” But unless we rise as a collective group, we may share that fiery destination with those we so despise. “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in time of great moral crisis,” Dante Alighieri.

 
John F. Borowski is a Environmental and Marine Science teacher in Salem, Oregon. His pieces have appeared in the
UTNE Reader, NY Times, PR Watch, Commondreams, Counterpunch, Liberal Slant, Forest Voice, EducationNews.org and Z Magazine.

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