By Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN, Texas — Too much negative about former President George W. Bush, too much positive about Hillary Rodham Clinton, and way too much coverage of Moses.
Those were among a long list of complaints — from both sides of the political spectrum — during an all-day hearing Tuesday on new history and social studies books for Texas public schools.
Most of the complaints centered on alleged biases in the textbooks and e-books that the State Board of Education will vote on in November. But more broadly, the hearing demonstrated how pitched battles over culture and politics are reflected in Texas’ schools and their curriculum. The materials will be distributed to schools in the fall of 2015.
Southern Methodist University history professor Kathleen Wellman told board members that several of the books on U.S. government and U.S. history exaggerate the influence of biblical figure Moses on America’s Founding Fathers.
“These books make Moses the original Founding Father and credit him for virtually every distinctive feature of American government,” Wellman said. “Moses shows up everywhere doing everything.”
She said publishers are trying to follow an ill-conceived curriculum requirement approved by the state board four years ago that called for more coverage of Moses and Mosaic Law in textbooks.
“This epitomizes the wrong-headed idea that the United States was founded on biblical law. The publishers are trying to conform to a standard without knowing how to do it,” Wellman said.
If the books are adopted as now written, she added, Texas schoolchildren will grow up “believing that Moses was the first American.”
On coverage of political figures, Emily McBurney of Temple said the Worldview company’s world history book has virtually nothing good to say about Bush, including the “increasingly low approval ratings” during his White House tenure and his continued resistance to evidence of human-caused climate change.
But Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, receives 38 lines of glowing descriptions in the book, McBurney told the board.
“Her roles as secretary of state (2009-2013) has often been seen as having a dual purpose: to improve the image of the United States and its relationships with foreign nations that were seen as damaged by the Bush administration, and as an advocate for the impoverished and the hungry around the world,” the high school textbook read.
Extended criticism of the Worldview books led board member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) to remark: “Do you own any Worldview stock? Because I would recommend that you sell it.”
Bradley was part of the social conservative bloc on the board that in 2010 pushed through new curriculum standards for U.S. history and other social studies courses that reflected a much more conservative tone than the previous standards.
Several speakers who criticized the books Tuesday blamed many of their problems — including factual errors — on the standards adopted four years ago over the objections of Democrats and mainstream education groups.
But board president Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) warned those in attendance that complaining about the standards now won’t do much good because they are now required in classroom instruction, achievement tests, and textbooks.
“We are not here to dive back into the curriculum standards,” she said. “That was over in 2010. We are here now to discuss textbooks.”
Other people testifying Tuesday cited unfair treatment of Muslims, Latinos, American Indians, and various minority groups.
Mustafaa Carroll of the Council of American-Islamic Relations told board members that some of the books unfairly blame the rise of international terrorism on Muslims and Islamic fundamentalism.
“Terrorist groups with nationalist and political agendas have formed in every part of the world,” said Carroll, who has headed the regional CAIR office in Dallas and Houston. He cited the Irish Republican Army and “Jewish-Zionist terrorist groups who committed acts of terror in their quest to establish a Jewish state.”
Jacqueline Jones, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, criticized the Pearson U.S. history text for encouraging ideological biases “that are either outside the boundaries of established mainstream scholarship, or just plain wrong.”
The authors, she said, “seem determined to shield impressionable (high school) students from some of the unpleasant facts of our history.”
That includes former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, whose opposition to school integration and glorification of white supremacy is watered down, she said, to make it sound “as if he was appealing to those who did not like the Beatles’ music or their haircuts.”
“We do our students a disservice when we scrub history clean of unpleasant truths, and when we present an inaccurate view of the past that promotes a simple-minded, ideologically driven point of view,” she told the board.
Karin Gilliland of Garland, who said she spent more than 130 hours reviewing some of the books this summer, criticized the world history books that are now using B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) to replace B.C. and A.D. when citing historical dates. Some scholars use B.C.E. and C.E. to avoid using the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, as the reference point for the important dates.
She also said that one of the books devalues the good in America. “I don’t see people flocking to Russia or Arabia or Africa. I see people flocking to America,” she said. “Our values are what make us great.”
Texas last adopted new social studies books in 2002. As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, the state has a strong influence on books marketed in other states.
Photo: Pesky Library via Flickr
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