Who Decides What’s In Your Kids’ Textbooks?
March 8, 2010 - 4:50 PM | by: Shannon Bream
This week in Texas, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will consider curriculum modifications that could impact millions of students across America. That's because what Texas ultimately decides has great influence among textbook publishers. The Lone Star state is one of their biggest customers in the world, so publishers craft their books to meet Texas standards. Those books are then sold nationwide. While the Texas SBOE debates whether to include things like Christmas, Paul Revere and the Liberty Bell - some are calling the textbook showdown the newest frontline of the culture war in the U.S.
It's a battle Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, is watching closely, "Well, if you grab the minds of the young people you grab the minds of the next generation." Sekulow believes a child's school board meeting is the most important governmental event a parent can plug into. "Parents don't check their rights to raise their children at the door to the schoolhouse," Sekulow cautions. He knows the stakes are high this week in Texas because, "This curriculum, once established, will effect a generation of students - how they think."
Others are concerned that conservative, religious interests are attempting to stuff Texas textbooks full of their viewpoint. Barry Lynn, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State warns, "There is a whole movement to convince Americans that this was founded as a Christian nation, and that's simply not the case." Lynn also worries, as others do, that elected board members - and not educators - are the ones making the final curriculum decisions. "The idea of electing people to make judgments about these topics, which frankly they often known nothing about, is a terrible idea," Lynn says.
Gilbert T. Sewall, Director of the American Textbook Council, says elected officials are often impacted by what he calls the "squeakiest wheel" - regardless of their ideology. "I think there's no doubt that identity politics have contributed to the decline of textbook quality over the last twenty years," Sewall laments. He says groups from nutritionists to gender activists have demanded their way into textbooks, but points to the one as the most prominent, "The most visible groups are the Christian right that wants to use American history textbooks to recapture the soul of the nation."
Conservatives, like attorney Jonathan Saenz of the Liberty Institute, say they don't mind being singled out and that it works to their benefit when liberal groups take to the Board of Education to take on subjects like Christmas and the Liberty Bell. According to Saenz, "The louder they shout the more then end up really equipping and informing people that agree with keeping things conservative and traditional."