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State approves 2 of 3 textbooks

BY Tim Eaton
by Tim Eaton on 11/10/01.

The State Board of Education approved two of three textbooks Friday in a vote that fell along party lines, and one of the five dissenting votes came from a Corpus Christi commissioner.

The board first decided Thursday to reject two of three new environmental science books for high school students but reconsidered Friday and snubbed only one when publishers said they would work to ease community concerns.

The elected board is charged with approving new textbooks. They put books on either a list of books that conform with the curriculum standards or one of books that do not conform.

Local school districts can use state money to buy books on the conforming list. Books that do not conform can only be purchased with school district money.

Along party lines

The books considered were: "Environmental Science: How the World Works and Your Place in It," published by Dallas-based J.M. LeBel Enterprises; "Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future," published by Massachusetts-based Jones and Bartlett Publishers and "Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment," published by Kendall-Hunt Publishing of Iowa. The Jones and Bartlett textbook was not approved.

All 10 Republicans on the board - including Chairwoman Grace Shore of Longview - indicated yesterday that they would reject two of the three textbooks, saying the books had factual errors, while all five Democrats - including Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, - said they would approve all of the books, claiming they were suitable for Texas students.

The Texas Freedom Network and other opponents of banning the books called the vote an act of censorship sparked by disagreement over issues like global warming and land management.

Ashley McInvain, a spokeswoman for the Texas Freedom Network, said her environmentally friendly organization considered Berlanga to be a "stalwart board member" in the science textbook debate.

Factual errors

Those who supported the vote said it was because of factual errors publishers refused to correct.

"I don't believe I'm censoring. I believe I'm saying there are too many factual errors in these two books," said Cynthia Thornton, R-Round Top.

Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, a 48,000-member nonprofit conservative group, was one of the most vocal opponents of the texts. Peggy Venable, the group's director, said she was pleased with the board's decision to reject only one.

"We still have some concerns. We believe that bias is an error by omission. The textbooks focus on an environmental crisis that we believe doesn't exist," she said. "They paint a doom and gloom, and we, as citizens, don't have that outlook."

Paganism, Christianity

Two of the publishers - LeBel Enterprises and Kendall-Hunt Publishing - agreed to work with the public to make changes to the texts, Venable said.

Neither publishing house was available for comment.

But Michael Stranz, editor-in-chief at Jones and Bartlett Publishers said, "If there are errors of fact, we will make changes, but we will not make changes to adhere to a political agenda."

Venable said that the Jones and Bartlett textbook blames democracy, Christianity and the Industrial Revolution for the environmental crisis.

"They go into detail saying that paganism is better for the environment than Christianity," she said.

Stranz denied any pro-pagan slant.

Political agenda

"It does not take a religious stance. It's a book that proposes thinking about alternatives to the current consumption of nonrenewable recourses," Stranz said.

Stranz added that the Kendall-Hunt Publishing book was partly funded by the American Institute of Mining and the Metallurgical & Petroleum Engineers.

Stranz said his company self-funds its texts.

Stranz's book is a college-level text, which was to be used for the 1,700 high school students in advanced environmental science courses, he said.

He said the textbook is used at the Austin and Tyler campuses of the University of Texas and at Baylor University.

Texas will spend $571 million on textbooks in the next two years. The Texas market is one of the country's largest, and trends are closely watched because publishing firms sell textbooks adopted in Texas to dozens of other states.

GRAPHIC: State Board of Education member David Bradley waves a resolution as he questions fellow member Cynthia Thornton during the board meeting on Friday in Austin. Thornton had changed her mind about one textbook under consideration by the board to be banned. The board approved the book after certain changes were promised.