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Group insists science books be thrown out

by JANET ELLIOTT on 9/7/01.

AUSTIN - Newly drafted middle-school science textbooks contain errors and exhibit a pro-environment bias, more than two dozen speakers told the State Board of Education on Thursday.

The criticisms focused on the proposed textbooks' discussions of global warming, acid rain and rain forest destruction. Many of the speakers were affiliated with Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, an advocacy and education organization dedicated to economic freedom.

Peggy Venable, director of that group, said one 8th-grade textbook "selectively uses data to frighten students about global warming and to motivate them to action."

"Many learned scientists and experts have differing opinions on global warming, endangered species, land management, and other topics in these texts," Venable said. "But rather than present an accurate picture of the different approaches to complex issues, these texts often depict the view that humans and the free enterprise system are driving forces behind our planet's destruction."

Michael Franks, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said the books should be thrown out.

"I think we've found the alternative fuel source that everyone is looking for and that is burning these," Franks said.

One speaker pointed out widely varying statistics in the different books about the number of acres of rain forest that are destroyed each year. Others decried a suggestion in a teachers' guide that students write their congressional representatives about environmental issues.

"These kids are not qualified to advise on national energy policy or to write their congressman, for God's sake," said Don Beeth of Friendswood.

The hearing was monitored by the Texas Freedom Network, a group that counters the religious right. Ashley McIlvain, research and press director for the network, called the meeting a "rather bizarre spectacle."

"These religious right groups are using the platform of fixing textbook errors to rant about a global conspiracy to indoctrinate students and accuse textbook publishers of pushing a political agenda by incorporating such radical notions as respecting the Earth," McIlvain said.

The State Board of Education will consider approving the books at its next meeting in November. Board Chairwoman Grace Shore said the board can make sure that factual errors are corrected, but can't do much about allegations of bias.

"We can only address errors. All we can do is give our moral indignation to the publishers over bias," Shore said.

Shore said she thinks some of the concerns are legitimate, such as having only environmentalist organizations listed for students to contact.

Shore said the local school boards who decide which textbooks to buy may be the campaign's real target.

"The publicity that this receives will influence local school boards because they are the ones that will ultimately choose the books," she said.

Publishers have 14 days to submit written responses to the public hearing. The board also will be considering an evaluation of the textbooks by a committee of educators and a review by Texas A&M University.

Joe Bill Watkins, who represents the Association of American Publishers, said there may be a difference of opinion on certain issues but that doesn't mean the books have a political agenda.

"It's not good business to present one-sided or biased instructional materials," he said.