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Groups criticize proposed texts ; Conservatives duel liberals over books

BY Sharon K. Hughes
by Sharon K. Hughes on 9/7/01.

BODY: Science textbooks went under the microscope Thursday at the State Board of Education hearing as conservative groups complained of scientific errors and a slant toward liberal environmental policy.

The flap centered mainly on books proposed for use in middle schools.

"There are errors of fact, errors of omission and even some outright bias," said Duggan Flanakin, who analyzed the books for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a San Antonio-based conservative think tank.

Supporters of the textbooks said the concerns have nothing to do with errors but are an attempt to delete new ideas.

"What we're really talking about is not including the latest scientific discoveries," said Ashley McIlvain of the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal group that counters religious right objectives.

"Scientifically based findings that have been proven again and again should be included in textbooks," McIlvain said.

The state board adopts textbooks but can reject a book only if it contains errors or fails to cover the state curriculum.

The state pays for the books and will spend about $100 million on those under review.

School districts make the final decisions on purchasing books, which will be used for eight years.

Flanakin's report accuses the texts of presenting one side of environmental issues such as global warming, energy conservation, rain forest destruction and use of alternative energy sources such as solar power.

He also said the books fail to deal adequately with water conservation, a major issue in Texas.

After Flanakin's report was released on the foundation's Web site, the Austin-based Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy e-mailed its members, who comprised most of the 28 people who testified.

Other speakers said the books portray American consumption as shameful and criticize fossil fuel use.

Brian Gaston, a City Councilman in Sugar Land, near Houston, said he's seen bad science and political activism defeat rational choices.

But people disagree on what is "bad science."

Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, said the science behind global warming is inconclusive, and to teach otherwise is fearmongering.

But Trinity environmental history professor Char Miller said, "I think they 're kidding themselves that global warming is not real."

Miller, who wasn't at the hearing, said he had not seen the textbooks in question.

Judy Fowles, secondary science curriculum specialist at Northside School District, hadn't seen the books, but said teachers can compensate for textbook failings.

Teachers must follow state and district curricula, she said, and have little time for discussions as they try to complete the required topics.

Publishers at the meeting Thursday said factual errors would be fixed, but withheld comment on accusations of bias.

The state hired Texas A&M University scientists to review the books for errors, but that report was only recently completed and hasn't been published.

GRAPHIC: HARRY CABLUCK/ASSOCIATED PRESS : Texas Board of Education member Richard Neill talks with Linda Janney (left), assistant to the director of textbooks, after Janney delivered a stack of science textbooks to him during Thursday's board meeting. in Austin.