Defend Schoolchildren From Board’s ‘Revisions’

Where are academics in the debate over textbooks for public schools?

A “citizens” group is bullying textbook publishers into exorcising facts from history, government and social studies books slated for Texas students while most scholars and institutions of higher learning warm the bench.

If this were a football game it would be fourth and goal. The star players should get off the bench, or we’ll lose more than a game — our children will lose out on a well-rounded education.

Today and Friday, State Board of Education members are scheduled to approve social studies textbooks for Texas’ 4.1 million public schoolchildren. Some of these books are being cleansed of information Texas students need to compete for admission to the nation’s best colleges and universities. The omission or blurring of those facts puts our kids at a disadvantage in taking college entrance exams or law or medical school admissions tests.

Should the elected education board allow this to happen, it will be dumbing down public education.

Let’s review two facts that Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy has identified as erroneous, and therefore, subject to revision:

* Global warming. Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy pushed for textbooks to describe global warming as a theory. This comes a year after a panel of top American scientists appointed by President Bush to study the issue declared that global warming is real and getting worse. The panel’s report was written by 11 atmospheric scientists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences, including a meteorologist who for years had expressed skepticism about some of the dire predictions regarding the significance of human-caused warming.

* Acid rain. Another theory, according to Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy. However, that “theory” has done real damage in Franklin, N.Y., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which describes the city’s Little Echo Pond as one of the most acidic lakes in the United States due to the effects of acid rain.

In the face of the existing evidence about these and other issues, it seems odd — to put it mildly — to call global warming or acid rain “theories.”

If facts are desired, here are a few. A majority of the State Board of Education, with the help of their friends at Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, has circumvented a state law.

After more than a decade of ideological wars over books, the Legislature stripped the education board of its power to edit content — a power board members had abused by using it to advance a political and religious agenda. But the education board’s social conservative members cleverly found a way to edit textbooks and seize authority the Legislature wisely gave to local school districts.

The 1995 law only allows the board to correct information in books that is erroneous. To get around that, the board and groups such as the conservative citizens group need only claim that facts are errors to force revisions. And as long as they can muster a majority on the board, they can turn facts into errors or “theories.” They are doing it with impunity.

Just last week, Texas Education Commissioner Felipe Alanis and Higher Education Commissioner Don Brown visited with this editorial board to promote in part a tougher curriculum to move 300,000 more kids into college over the next decade or so. Yet they have been silent in standing up for the kind of textbooks needed to accomplish that task. We commend professors such as the University of Texas’ Andrew Riggsby, who correctly characterized this process as vandalism rather than review.

The University of Texas, with its army of noted scientists, researchers and legal scholars and its College of Education, should have intervened. But it has curiously remained on the sidelines as the battle over our schoolchildren’s minds plays out blocks from the campus.

We only hope it shows up today and Friday to stop what otherwise will be a certain victory for the board — but a big loss for our schoolchildren.