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Time again to talk textbooks

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network sounded the alarm in the Sunday op-eds.

The last time Texas adopted social studies textbooks – in 2002 – political activists and members of the state education board themselves demanded scores of changes to content they didn’t like.

Publishers resisted some, such as demands to downplay slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. But they buckled on others, such as rewriting passages in geography textbooks so students learn that landscape features and fossil fuels formed “in the distant past” instead of “millions of years ago.” The latter conflicted with the beliefs of biblical creationists that Earth is just a few thousand years old.

A fundamental problem this time around is that the new textbooks must be based on deeply flawed curriculum standards the board adopted in 2010. How bad are those standards? Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in a scathing review published in 2011, called the standards a “politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

That political bias is evident in how the standards address topics such as slavery and the Civil War, the civil rights movement and “grossly exaggerated” religious influences on the nation’s founding. Fordham’s report expressed dismay at the treatment of McCarthyism (vindicated!) and even compared the “uncritical celebration” of the free enterprise system in the standards to “Soviet schools harping on the glories of state socialism.”

Despite these flawed standards, you might hope that the state’s official review and adoption process would help ensure that the new textbooks are accurate. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine how that could happen.

See here and here for some background. On Wednesday, as promised in that op-ed, TFN got all academic about it.

Teachers, activists and officials are girding for a renewed battle over Texas school textbooks, as the State Board of Education is set to discuss new social studies instructional materials for the first time in a dozen years.

The first volley came from the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning religious liberties nonprofit group that advocates for the separation of church and state. With the help of three academics and seven doctoral students, the TFN undertook a comprehensive review of 43 of the proposed history, geography and government textbooks available for public perusal.

Their findings released Wednesday assert many of the textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influences, lend “undue legitimacy to neo-Confederate” arguments about states’ rights and slavery and “suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system.”

[…]

Emile Lester is an associate professor of political science at Virginia’s University of Mary Washington and one of the experts who put together the TFN report: “The SBOE and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars.”

The TFN placed much of the blame on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, new curriculum standards the state board adopted in 2010. They point to studies like that completed in 2011 by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which gave the new U.S. History curriculum a D for “a rigidly thematic and theory-based social studies structure with a politicized distortion of history.”

An index page of their reports is here, the press release is here, and the executive summary, which is quite detailed, is here. You really have to admire TFN for doing this kind of unglamorous but vitally important work, which they do consistently at a high level. Trail Blazers, Newsdesk, the Trib, and K-12 Zone have more.

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