New Texas Textbooks Tout Christian Heritage, Downplay Segregation

Review of textbooks finds they run deep with inaccuracies, distortion of history

Texas will soon consider introducing social studies textbooks into schools that contain "serious distortions of history and contemporary issues," according to the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit watchdog group in Austin.

The TFN found dozens of biased and inaccurate lessons in a number of history, geography, and government textbooks under consideration by the state Board of Education. The group, which studied 43 proposed textbooks, discovered that they were fraught with many of the same "serious flaws that plague the state's controversial curriculum standards" adopted in 2010 when the board approved religious and ideologically conservative policies for public education.

The standards give more emphasis to Christian theology, politically right-wing morality, and the concept of American exceptionalism, while downplaying multicultural studies and historical figures like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

"Publishers faced a difficult choice [to] either meet politicized requirements set out in the curriculum standards adopted by the SBOE or risk failing to win board approval for their textbooks this fall," the Texas Freedom Network wrote in a statement following the release of its study, entitled Writing to the Standards: Reviews of Proposed Social Studies Textbooks for Texas Public Schools (pdf).

Some of the key findings include:

  • Some textbooks greatly exaggerate religious influences on the American founding, with some going so far as to suggest without substantiation that Moses was a major influence, that “the roots of democratic government” can be found in the Old Testament, and that “the biblical idea of a covenant … contributed to our constitutional structure";
  • While the textbooks largely make clear that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War, some give nods to neo-Confederate arguments first promoted after the war that “states’ rights” was the driving issue;
  • Some textbooks reinforce negative stereotypes of Islam as a violent religion spread exclusively by conquest. One tells students, inaccurately, that “the spread of international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism,” ignoring the numerous examples of terrorism not related to Islam at all;
  • Reflecting concerns already noted about the curriculum standards by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a number of textbooks present an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system. They downplay or even ignore legitimate problems in capitalism and the role government played in the growth of the American economy of the 1800s.

Other inaccuracies are less damaging in their conclusions, but still point to a larger trend of misinformation in the textbooks, such as the "fact" that all Hindus are vegetarians. Meanwhile, many Christian concepts and historical events are skimmed over, "often apparently due to the presumption that all students are Christians and already familiar with that information," TFN found.

Civil rights issues are also rarely given appropriate coverage and reverence, the study notes. Some "downplay the serious hardships faced by African Americans during segregation" and "suffer from a general lack of attention to the experiences of Native American peoples and cultures," while another "links the gay rights movement of the late 1960s to society 'spinning out of control.'"

One textbook also published a cartoon mocking affirmative action, "suggest[ing] that space aliens would qualify."

The standards' "combination of incoherence, poor construction, and attempted indoctrination is clear," said Southern Methodist University history professor Dr. Edward Countryman, one of the panelists who reviewed the textbooks.

The board of education will hold at least two public hearings before voting to approve the textbooks. However, one member told Politico that the board "can reject a book if there are factual errors... but we don't get to express our views about which books we like or don't like, or about how things are portrayed."

"One can only hope that in the next round of drafting, good historical sense rather than ideology will prevail. ... [T]he subject is far too important for ideology to trump all else," Countryman said.

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