With the State Board of Education poised to vote on new social studies textbooks later this week, a group of teachers, parents and activists on Tuesday blasted textbook changes that they say have been made at the behest of Christian and capitalist critics.
Some of the disputed changes by the books' publishers delete the suggestion that global warming and acid rain are proven scientific phenomena, that Christians accepted slavery and that the Earth is "millions of years" old, a timeline that contradicts literal interpretations of the Bible.
"A small group of busybodies have used this process to wipe out facts they don't happen to care for. That's not a review; it's vandalism," Andrew Riggsby, a University of Texas classics professor, said at a Capitol news conference sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, which seeks to keep religion out of public policy.
The group and its supporters plan to send 4,000 postcards to textbook publishers and state officials urging them not to go along with the changes.
But some of the groups that requested the changes accused the Texas Freedom Network of peddling its own radical political agenda and unfairly referring to an open, citizen-oriented textbook review process as censorship.
"It's laughable that they have called themselves mainstream," said Peggy Venable, spokeswoman for Citizens for a Sound Economy. "After last week, it's clear that mainstream Texas citizens are fiscal conser- vatives."
Venable's group pushed for textbooks to describe global warming as a theory that is not universally accepted and to omit sentences that said communism and socialism helped people.
The State Board of Education reviewed and accepted public testimony earlier this fall on social studies textbooks for public schools. Before the final board vote, publishers are supposed to change factual errors that have been spotted.
But the question of what, exactly, is a factual error has turned the textbook approval process into a political maelstrom and an ongoing struggle to define Texas values. Some groups, for example, say science has proved that fossil fuels date back millions of years, and others say the Bible offers a different theory and that the scientific evidence should not be treated with absolute certainty.
In addition to voting on the proposed changes this week, the Board of Education will vote on whether to allow publishers to continue making changes to their textbooks beyond this week. Because Texas is the nation's second-largest textbook consumer, it can dictate what other states get as publishers target their offerings for Texas.
"We are tired of the religious right dictating how and what our children learn in school," Susan Moffat, the parent of a fifth-grader at Lee Elementary School in Austin, said at the Capitol news conference. "Our democracy is based on a strong separation of church and state. We do not tell others what to believe."
By the book
A sampling of some of the disputed lines in social studies textbooks being reviewed by the State Board of Education this week.
Textbook excerpt: "(M)any other teachings in the Quran, such as the importance of honesty, honor, giving to others and having love and respect for their families, govern their daily lives."
Critics say: Perpetuates "propaganda" for Islam.
Textbook excerpt: "Acid rain damages trees and harms rivers and lakes."
Critics say: Presents sentiment as fact instead of theory.
Textbook excerpt: "Approximately 1 out of five people in the US does not have medical insurance. The majority of these uninsured people are children in lower income families. Because they do not have insurance, they might not be able to get some forms of medical treatment."
Critics say: Provides no evidence of widespread availability of health-care options for the poor; low-income children do not represent a "majority" of the uninsured.
Textbook excerpt: "Christians would later accept slavery in other contexts."
Critics say: It's anti-Christian and overemphasizes U.S. role in slavery.
Textbook excerpt: "In a communist system, the central government owns all property, such as farms and factories, for the benefit of its citizens."
Critics say: Communism did not benefit its citizens.
Sources: Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, Texas Freedom Network