Groups Spar Over What Goes In Social Studies Books

Susan Moffat doesn’t want the beliefs of social conservatives forced on her fifth-grade daughter during social studies class.

University of Texas assistant professor Andrew Riggsby craves students who have been taught all sides of history in high school.

The Rev. Sid Hall disagrees with using the classroom as a platform for pushing Christianity.

The three were among dozens who gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to criticize what they say is an unfair influence of social conservatives and religious right groups in Texas’ textbook adoption process.

The Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that calls itself a watchdog of the religious right, said an example of the influence is removal of positive portrayals of Islam in the proposed books after some said it was “more propaganda” for the religion.

“Good textbooks help me. Censored and distorted ones hurt,” said Riggsby, who specializes in Roman history. Some want to “wipe out facts they don’t happen to care for. That’s not review; that’s vandalism. You can’t ignore the facts just because you don’t like them.”

Peggy Venable, director of thee conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy, said her group supports patriotism, democracy, free enterprise and some of the proposed textbook changes.

She also said she wants all sides of debatable issues covered in textbooks. For example, her members disagree with books that do not explain both views of global warming and instead become “activist workbooks.”

The State Board of Education rejected an environmental science textbook last year after some objected to its praise for the federal Endangered Species Act and its warning about the threat of global warming.

Texas Freedom Network supporters “try to lump all citizens who they don’t agree with as religious right and we don’t have anything to do with religion,” Venable said.

“We’re simply saying put both (views) in there,” she said.

The education board is scheduled to decide Thursday what social studies books Texas students will use over the next six years.

Textbooks decisions are always contentious in Texas.

People with various views spend hours reviewing proposed books for factual errors and offering opinions on what should and shouldn’t be in the texts, decisions that often lock up the 15-member elected state board.

For publishers, millions of dollars are on the line – Texas will spend $345 million on social studies and other books this year, and the books adopted here are marketed in dozens of other states. Only California buys more textbooks in the United States.

Four red wagons filled with postcards asking the board to support factually accurate books free from “promoting religious beliefs or political agendas” were parked near the Capitol as about 50 people joined the Freedom Network.

Network executive director Samantha Smoot said one publisher agreed to eliminate references to “fossil fuels being formed millions of years ago” so there would be no conflict with biblical timelines, which indicate the Earth has existed for a much shorter time.

Another publisher deleted a passage that said Osama bin Laden’s orders to his followers to kill Americans runs counter to Muslim teachings. “No idea could be farther from Muslim teachings,” the deleted passage said. Critics said the book was too kind in describing Muslim beliefs.

Representatives for textbook publishers insist the changes cited by the Texas Freedom Network are a small fraction of the revisions that have been made since the original versions of the books were presented to the state.

Critics disagree.

“Mainstream Texans have had enough of far-right groups pushing their personal religious and political beliefs into Texas public school classrooms,” Smoot said.

Venable said the Republican sweep in last week’s election proves that Texans are conservatives and that Smoot’s group does not represent the mainstream.