Students of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., including Hazel Bryan, shout insults at Elizabeth Eckford as she marches down to a line of National Guardsmen, who blocked the main entrance and would not let her enter on Sept. 4, 1957.
Will Counts/Arkansas Democrat Gazette/AP

Texas textbooks complain about taxes, downplay segregation


“In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. taxes are ‘what we pay for civilized society.’ Society does not appear to be much more civilized today than it was when Justice Holmes made that observation in 1927. However, ‘what we pay’ has certainly gone up.”

That’s not a quote from a tea party manifesto. It’s the first paragraph of the section on taxation in a proposed new social studies textbook for Texas schools.

“The [Board of Education] and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars.”
Prof. Emile Lester, University of Mary Washington in Virginia

Another textbook based on the same controversial standards suggests Jim Crow sometimes wasn’t that big of a deal. “Under segregation, all-white and all-African American schools sometimes had similar buildings, buses, and teachers,” it says. “Sometimes, however, the buildings, buses, and teachers for the all-black schools were lower in quality.”

And a U.S. history textbook mentions segregation only in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces.

Don’t blame the textbook writers—including several major publishing houses—for the right-wing political slant. They were written to conform to standards approved in 2010 by the state Board of Education, after an organized conservative campaign to take over the board.

“We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it,” Rev. Peter Marshall, a conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through, said at that time.

On Wednesday, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a liberal group that opposes the standards, released a series of reports by scholars finding serious flaws—many suggesting conservative bias—in the textbooks.

The new books, which haven’t yet gone into schools, are up for review by the board.

Texas isn’t the only state where conservatives have pushed text books that sacrifice academic rigor to ideology. In 2010, Virginia distributed a new history book, written by a non-historian, whose section on the Civil War told students: “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.” The claim, which was copied from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has been dismissed by mainstream historians.

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Even the national Republican Party is focused on the issue. Last month, when the College Board released a new “curriculum framework” for the U.S. history test that involves a greater focus on women and minorities, the Republican National Committee called it a “radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”

But Texas is where the issue has flared most strongly. In its own report summarizing the scholars’ findings, TFN said the new textbooks:

-“exaggerate Judeo-Christian influence on the nation’s founding.”

-“include misinformation that undermines the Constitutional concept of the separation of church and state.”

-“include biased statements that inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims negatively.”

-“suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system.”

-include one book that “flirts with contemporary tea party ideology.”

-include another that offers “outdated—and possibly offensive—anthropological categories and racial terminology in describing African civilizations.”

-include a government textbook that offers “a biased—verging on offensive—treatment of affirmative action.”

- “give undue legitimacy to neo-Confederate arguments about ‘states’ rights’  and the legacy of slavery in the South.”

One book includes a cartoon that shows an alien stepping out of a UFO. “This planet is great,” he tells another alien. “He says we qualify for affirmative action.” Students are asked to explain “why is this character happy about affirmative action?”

“The [Board of Education] and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars,” said Emile Lester, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, who authored one of the reports, said in a statement.

The questions about bias don’t end there. Before the board decides on whether to approve the books for teaching to Texas’s 5.1 million, majority-Hispanic public-school students, a 140-member review panel, appointed by the board, will submit reports on whether the books are accurate and conform to the standards. But it may not be a panel that inspires much trust.

In July, TFN noted that just three of the panel’s members are faculty of Texas colleges and universities. It said several well-qualified academics applied to serve but were rejected. Instead, the review panel includes a pastor and tea party-aligned Republican candidate for the Texas legislature, who pledges on his campaign website to “do everything within my power to protect the lives of the unborn and protect our families by being a gatekeeper of our right to bear arms.”

The board will hold public hearings before deciding whether to approve the books. TFN is working to rally critics of the books to testify.