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Dozens of Texans Try to Help Write History at Textbook Hearing

BY Jim Suydam
by Jim Suydam on 7/18/02.

Some spoke of a failure to mention the religious beliefs of the founding fathers. A busload of students from the University of Texas at Brownsville bemoaned the lack of Hispanics. One man argued that what he called the "violent nature" of Muslims should be included.
Drawn by the chance to influence what the state's schoolchildren read when they open up their history and social studies books next year, dozens of Texans from across the state testified before the State Board of Education on Wednesday.
In November, the board will vote on more than 150 proposed social studies and history texts, selecting which ones Texas school districts may choose from for the next six years.
"I don't expect that the board will reject any of them," said board Chairwoman Grace Shore, R-Longview.
As the more than 67 speakers came before the board, a general consensus emerged from the politically disparate group: The textbooks just need a little more history in them.
Publishers appear to have followed the curriculum elements that the state requires, said Chris Patterson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
But in following the state's guidelines, critics said, the books have omitted crucial aspects of history not specifically asked for by the state and lost the narrative line that makes history so compelling.
"As one of our reviewers noted, these books are just one damn fact after another," Patterson said.
The foundation, a pro-business group, paid nearly $100,000 for a review of the drafts of the books, which it says found more than 500 errors.
There's plenty that needs to be added to the books, each of which already weigh in at about 10 pounds, said Jose Angel Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, who spoke of the need to tell students more about the influence of Spain and Hispanics in American history.
"Mexico is not even discussed in the section on North America," he said, referring to a sixth-grade text on world cultures and geography.
Maria Louisa Garza came from Corpus Christi to ask the board to make publishers include the names of those killed in the Alamo. As a child, Garza said, she felt bad about the Alamo. "The battle of the Alamo had always been an us-against-them thing, and I was on the wrong side," she said. But when she visited it as an adult and saw the names of the Hispanics killed in the fight against Santa Anna's tyranny, she "finally felt like a fully franchised Texan," she said.
More than 20 speakers from Citizens for a Sound Economy, another pro-business group, asked that more be included about the American Revolution and capitalism. The books have too much about socialist Karl Marx and not enough about classic liberal John Locke, one said.
But unlike in past years, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Texas Public Policy Foundation will not be asking that any books be rejected, both groups said.
Publishers attending the meeting said they would respond in writing to all of the concerns raised at the meeting.
Joe Bill Watkins, an Austin attorney who represents the American Association of Publishers, said that although it would be great to add much of what was asked for in the hearing, it's not fair to ask publishers to rewrite their books at this point.
"If they've covered the (curriculum required by the state) then they've done what's required," Watkins said. If there are things that should be covered, then the Legislature needs to change its requirements, he said.