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AUSTIN - Bowing to political pressure, publishers of social studies textbooks have changed passages dealing with events ranging from the Alamo to last year's terrorist attacks.
The publishers are hoping the changes will help their 200 textbooks gain approval next month from the State Board of Education. That approval is key to getting a piece of the $ 345 million market.
School districts will decide which books to use, but the state only pays for books that pass state board muster.
With 4 million students, Texas is one of the largest markets for textbooks. Publishers often gear books to survive the rigorous review process here, and then market them in other states.
Dozens of citizens reviewed the books and expressed their thoughts during three public hearings conducted by the state board last summer. Since then publishers have been responding to the comments, rejecting some and agreeing with others.
The changes are drawing both praise and criticism.
Board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, said she's pleased that publishers responded to calls to include more about Mexicans who helped defend the Alamo and the later struggles of Mexican-Americans for civil rights.
Berlanga said publishers have added passages that weave Hispanics into the stories of Texas and America.
"This is a very important step that we're taking forward," said Berlanga.
Others say that the publishers are censoring their textbooks to pass a conservative litmus test.
Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors the religious right, said publishers have deleted passages that describe Islam positively and made changes to promote Christianity.
For example, a reference in a sixth-grade social studies book to glaciers forming the Great Lakes "millions of years ago" was changed to "in the distant past."
Robert Raborn, a member of the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy, had complained that "millions of years ago" supported the theory of evolution and excluded theories such as intelligent design.
That same publisher, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, addressed another of Raborn's criticisms by deleting a sentence that stated that acid rain produced in the United States is a major environmental problem for Canada.
Last year, the education board rejected a high school environmental science textbook that conservatives said presented an extreme environmentalist view. State law allows the education board to reject books only for factual errors or for not conforming to the curriculum.
"Instead of standing guard and protecting the thoroughness and accuracy of textbooks, some publishers are now caving in to pressure from a handful of very noisy would-be censors," said Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network.
The discussion of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., by Muslim extremists was closely read by many reviewers. Raborn criticized a passage in the Glencoe/McGraw-Hill book that discussed how Osama bin Laden's instructions to his followers to kill Americans was not supported by the Quran, which tells soldiers to show civilians kindness and justice.
"This is going to great length to put a positive light on Muslim teachings considering other passages in the Quran. Either leave this material out alltogether or present more balance," Raborn said in written comments submitted to the state board.
The publisher replaced the deleted passage with a statement that al-Qaeda's anti-American beliefs were not shared by all Muslims. "The attacks on the United States horrified people around the world, including millions of Muslims who live in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere," the book now reads.
Joe Bill Watkins, an Austin lawyer who represents the Association of American Publishers, said the review process worked. He said the alterations made by publishers are a small percentage of the changes requested by members of the public who reviewed the books.
"For the most part, they're not controversial," said Watkins. "But this is social studies, and let's face it, you probably could throw a dart at any page and find somebody who didn't like it. This isn't mathematics, where two plus two equals four."
Chris Patterson, director of educational research for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank, said the review process worked.
"This is the perfect example of democracy in action and how democracy was designed to function," Patterson said. "It's noisy, it's loud and there's a lot of public interaction and the best outcome is derived."
However, Patterson said the Legislature should consider adopting a formal process for the textbooks to be reviewed by college professors.
"There's no real quality control. Everyone right and left sees that," said Patterson.
. . .
"Instead of protecting the accuracy of textbooks, some publishers are now caving in to pressure from a handful of very noisy would-be censors."
Samantha Smoot of the Texas Freedom Network
"This is the perfect example of democracy in action and how democracy was designed to function."
Chris Patterson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation
. . .
The following are samples of changes made in Our World Today: People, Places, and Issues, a proposed sixth-grade social studies textbook. The text, published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, is awaiting approval by the State Board of Education.
"Glaciers formed (the Great Lakes) millions of years ago."
"Glaciers formed (the Great Lakes) in the distant past."
"Al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden told his followers that it was a Muslim's duty to kill Americans. No idea could be farther from Muslim teachings. The Quran, Islam's holiest book, tells soldiers to 'show (civilians) kindness and deal with them justly.'"
"The terrorists who hijacked the airplanes belonged to a group called al-Qaeda. The group was founded by Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian They hated freedom of religion and wanted strict religious leaders to control Muslim countries. Al-Qaeda's beliefs were not shared by all Muslims. The attacks on the United States horrified people around the world, including millions of Muslims who live in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere."