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Sounding Off on Textbooks

BY ARmando Villifranca
by ARmando Villifranca on 7/18/02.

AUSTIN - Some simply want Texas towns, rivers and regions marked correctly when mentioned in school textbooks. Others find the scant references to women's rights - and other civil right struggles - deplorable.
And then there are those who seek the inclusion of little-known facts so obscure and trivial - such as San Antonio supplying meat to patriots during the American Revolution - that they are probably better suited for a board game about trivia than a young Texan's mind.
Throughout Wednesday, teachers, citizen groups and public citizens sounded off on what they thought should be included in social studies textbooks during a hearing before the State Board of Education.
"Citizens have pretty much been asleep at the wheel. We've complained a lot after the fact, but only a few citizens have over the years rolled up their sleeves, reviewed the textbooks and weighed in," said Peggy Venable of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy.
Concerns ranged from omissions to misrepresentations, especially about the cultural, political and racial landscape of the state.
Texas, which has about 4.1 million students in its public school system, adopts new social studies books every eight years. The state will spend $ 344.7 million on the textbooks, which will be used in classrooms in 2003.
The elected State Board of Education has no say over textbook content but can reject books because of errors or failure to follow the state curriculum. The board is scheduled to make its final decisions in November.
Tony Bonilla, a Corpus Christi attorney and former League of United Latin American Citizens president, said state history textbooks were "woefully inadequate" when it came to depicting the role Hispanics played in state and national history.
The list for public testimony included a contingent from the University of Texas-Brownsville that left the Rio Grande Valley at 3 a.m. to attend Wednesday's hearing.
Venable said her group is focusing on ensuring that textbooks teach patriotism, free market and democracy in a favorable light. During the last round of hearings, her group sought the rejection of one textbook, but will not make such recommendations this year.
An example of someof the problems, she said, was a reference in a sixth-grade textbook claiming that socialism and communism were good for all citizens.
"We believe strongly that those are failed systems . . . and that sixth-grade students need that explained to them," she said.