“…an insidious action was at work to brainwash our children to be anti-free market, anti-capitalism, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, pro socialism, pro Islam, pro big government, anti-innovation, anti-fossil fuels, pro renewable energy.” – 912 Project TN president, J. Lee Douglas, 10/8/13
It would be great if textbook development and selection were a process divorced from politics, a place where serious educators could wrestle with complex questions: which facts are most relevant? How do we present information in an unbiased way? What are the best tools to teach the facts and help students engage in critical thinking?
Sorry, folks. That’s not the way it works.
While textbook activism is nothing new, some of the particulars have morphed over the past few years. The same issues that have been raised in Tennessee are the subject of fights elsewhere too: how pro-capitalism are the textbooks? How do they present creationism/evolution? What kind of health information do they include? How is Christianity portrayed and, increasingly, how is Islam portrayed?
In 2010, the Texas State Board of Education (including extreme right wing activists and non-educators) heavily revised the standards and guidelines created by professional educators. The board changed a standard to downplay the role of slavery in the Civil War, added a new standard which includes far-right conservative icons, and added a new standard that suggests that separation of church and state is not a key principle of the Constitution. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute called the standards a “politicized distortion of history” which include “misrepresentations at every turn.”
“Volunteer scholars” mobilized by a group called Truth in Texas Textbooks (TTT) recently conducted a full assessment of 32 textbooks being used in the state’s schools. TTT was founded by members of Act! For America, an organization dedicated to combating what it describes as “the threat of radical Islam.” J. Lee Douglas, 912 Project TN president, is an active member of Act! in Tennessee.
In January of 2011, a couple dozen Tennessee Tea Partiers went to the Capitol to make their “demands” to the state legislature. One of the demands was related to teaching history: “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Let’s pause here so you can read that contorted sentence one more time.
Translation: nothing bad that actually happened to any minorities should make the founding fathers or, um, white people (?), look bad. The leader and spokesman for the group presenting this demand was Hal Rounds, a lawyer from Somerville, TN. Rounds told a reporter that kids were being taught that the founding fathers were hypocrites (your judgment here) and slave owners (true for some) and “part of the teachings about slavery was that it was inherently cruel.” Rounds added: “White people were whipped too.”
At the same time, Rounds said this was all about “educating students the truth about America.” Hello, George Orwell!
The following year, a group of textbook activists (including Rounds) got going once again. This time, they decided to inspect all the social studies textbooks that were up for review the following year. They created an organization (unregistered) called Textbook Advocates and enlisted like-minded activists to “review” the social studies textbooks.
You’ll be shocked to hear that the reviewers found the exact bias they expected to find. They reported that they found that many of the social studies textbooks were 1) anti-free market, 2) pro-socialism, 3) anti-Christian, 4) too negative about slavery, and 5) were sexually explicit.
Mr. Rounds was one of the main reviewers. Others identified themselves as part of the 912 Project, Ladies of Liberty, Parents for Truth in Education, and Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. The group also created Textbook Tattler, a handout that they (and some of the candidates) distributed and referenced during the election.
We’re all for critical thinking vs. Orwellian double-speak around here and, always, encourage you to look at the reviews themselves. Below is a selection. (Click on each image to enlarge.)
The following activists addressed the committee: Hal Rounds, Julie West, Lisa Moore, Laurie Cardoza Moore, and Barbara Sturgeon.
How the textbook issue affected the school board race
Beth Burgos and Candy Emerson both made textbooks (along with Common Core) a signature issue in their campaigns.
Beth Burgos was involved in trying to get some social studies books rejected at the local level following their approval at the state level. The WCS board voted that the books were suitable for WCS. This apparently spurred Burgos and Emerson to run.
“From the standpoint of religion, I got so convicted that night [after the school board voted on textbooks] that I knew that I had to run because I needed to stand up for God’s honor because nobody else was.” Beth Burgos, 7/10/14 Williamson Herald
“I believe that God called me to this position. We had so many Christians praying. Many parents want textbooks to reflect Christian values. We want to represent the voices that have spoken.” – Beth Burgos, 8/7/14 Williamson Herald
“Textbooks do not reflect our American values, do not preserve our national heritage and compromise the design our Founding Fathers laid out in our founding documents.” – Candy Emerson candidate profile, 7/14/14 Brentwood Home Page
Both Burgos and Emerson are apparently a part of a contingent that sees the current textbooks as anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and un-American containing “inaccuracies, religious and political bias, age-inappropriate material and even pornography” (per a letter written by textbook commissioner Dr. Jason Robinson and cited by Beth Burgos).
Trust activists, not teachers
The textbook activists have successfully gotten three spots for “lay-people” on the state committee that reviews the initial batch of textbooks. They are now working to get as much input from non-educators, and non-WCS parents on the local textbook committee as possible. Teachers and administrators—even WCS parents—are not who they trust to see this bias.
“The majority of the current crop of teachers and administrators are already subjects (victims) of the systematic indoctrination that has been inflicted on our education system for decades.” – Textbook activist and 912er Jackie Archer in an 8/24/14 email from J. Lee Douglas to the new school board members
Stacking the WCS committee
The books that will be reviewed over the next couple years are likely to be less controversial, but the process for setting up the committee will have long-range consequences. Math texts will be reviewed in 2015, and CTE (Career and Technical Education) textbooks will be reviewed in 2016. In 2017, science texts are up for review. Expect some controversy there. Candy Emerson, prior to her election to the board, told Nashville Public Radio that “Some of the [science] texts are developmentally inappropriate for high school students. The material is too graphic.”
We expect we’ll hear much, much more about textbooks in the near future.
For introductory information on textbook review and adoption, see Textbooks, Part 1: Nuts and Bolts.
Refer to Textbooks, Part 3: Check out the “experts” for more details.