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Texas Textbook Selection Under Scrutiny

BY Katherine Sayre
by Katherine Sayre on 7/18/02.

Two political groups debated the selection of public school textbooks Wednesday outside the Texas State Board of Education hearing on social studies texts.
Groups that support the ban on the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools should not be involved in the selection of textbooks, said Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy. TCSE is a conservative activist group that claims to have found errors of omission and propaganda in textbooks.
"We are here today as proud Americans who support teaching patriotism, democracy and the free market, as required by state law," Venable said. "We support the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools and stand in stark contrast to the so-called Texas Freedom Network, who has publicly opposed the pledge in schools."
The Texas Education Code includes a provision that states that textbooks should promote democracy, patriotism and the free-enterprise system. That statute has served as the base of the TCSE's argument over textbook content.
Samantha Smoot, the executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, arrived to defend the organization after Venable had stopped speaking. TFN, an organization that describes itself as fighting for freedom from the religious right, agrees with the recent ruling that bans the pledge in public schools.
"I denounce that this group of self-appointed would-be censors are trying to inject their narrow political ideology into textbooks," Smoot said.
Smoot said local school boards should be allowed to decide what textbooks are viable for use rather than censoring the books beforehand.
This debate took place outside the day-long meeting with the Texas State Board of Education, which heard more than 100 speakers from organizations such as Daughters of the American Revolution and the Texas Justice Foundation. The speakers had reviewed textbooks that were up for approval by the board, and they argued for or against different textbooks. Each year, the board compiles a list of qualified textbooks for local school systems to choose from.
Venable said textbooks should not contain favorable views of communist and socialist ideology and should instead promote patriotic and democratic ideals.
Smoot said TCSE is a group made up of "extremists who want to decide for themselves what the rest of us have access to."
Debate over the content of textbooks has happened before in Texas. In 2001, the debate over textbooks resulted in the removal of two science textbooks after conservative groups criticized them in front of the board.
Venable also said the Texas State Teachers Association should end its "cozy relationship" with the TFN.
"We further call on the Texas State Teachers Association-PAC [political action committee] to demand return of the thousands of dollars they have contributed to the Texas Freedom Network," Venable said.
Richard Kouri, a spokesman for the TSTA, said the TSTA will not consider asking for the return of the donations.
"What we do with our PAC money is none of TCSE's business," Kouri said. "[Texas Freedom Network] is an organization that we do agree with most of the time."
Kouri also said the State Board of Education is responsible only for the factual accuracy of textbooks.
"We'll be watching to see if the Board of Education is doing what they're legally bound to do," Kouri said.