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Strengthening Public Schools

Textbook Censorship in Texas: A Timeline

Texas textbooks have long been a target for censorship efforts by groups like the Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, The Justice Foundation, Texas Eagle Forum and Texas Public Policy Foundation. These and other far-right pressure groups work to delete information they disagree with and inject their own political ideology and religious values. Their efforts over time have also succeeded in persuading publishers to censor their own textbooks before submitting them to the state for approval. Below is a timeline describing how far-right pressure groups have worked over time to censor textbooks in Texas. 

1960s to present - Efforts to censor Texas textbooks stretch back to at least the 1960s, when Mel and Norma Gabler began to review the books. Mel died in 2004, followed by Norma’s death in 2007. Associate Neal Frey now runs the Gablers’ Educational Research Analysts. The Gablers whose motto was “We review public school textbooks from a conservative, Christian perspective” were based in the East Texas city of Longview. According to the Web site of their organization, the Gablers targeted more than a half-dozen “subject areas of concern,” including evolution, phonics-based reading in instruction, the free-enterprise system, “original intent” of the U.S. Constitution, “respect for Judeo-Christian morals,” abstinence sex education, and “politically incorrect degradation of academics.” The media-savvy Gablers adopted a variety of strategies in their censorship efforts. Primary among such strategies was the identification of long lists of “errors” in textbooks they reviewed. Often, however, many of the errors were simply ideological objections to textbook content. In recent years, other far-right pressure groups have eclipsed Educational Research Analysts in the public eye. Under Frey’s leadership, however, the group continues to review textbooks, and vigilance about the promotion of religions other than Christianity continues to animate the critiques. For example, among the group’s critiques of new math textbooks in 2007: “Replacing stan­dard algorithms with haphazard searches for personal meaning unconstitutionally establishes New Age relig­ious behavior in public school Math instruction.” (Educational Research Analysts Web site)

1993 - Other pressure groups in Texas join the Gablers in trying to remove discussions of evolution from biology textbooks or have it taught alongside Bible-based creationism.

1994 - Far-right critics target proposed new health textbooks, focusing largely on discussion involving sex and gender roles. Much of the far right’s venom is focused on textbook information about contraception, the use of barrier protection to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and sexual orientation. Pressure groups also call for the removal of an illustration of a female breast used to teach breast self-exams to girls. In addition, they push to replace a photograph of a woman carrying a briefcase with one showing a woman cooking at home thereby promoting what pressure groups saw as a more acceptable gender role for women. Led by social conservatives, the State Board of Education (SBOE) demands that publishers make hundreds of changes to their health textbooks. One publisher ultimately withdraws its textbook from consideration by the SBOE rather than make such changes.

1995 - The Texas Freedom Network begins monitoring the textbook adoption process to counter censorship efforts.

March 1995 - SBOE member Donna Ballard an early member of the board’s far-right faction sends a letter to local school board presidents urging them not to adopt certain health textbooks that teach about sexually transmitted diseases and condom use.

June 1995 - The 74th Texas Legislature passes Senate Bill 1, which limits the power of the SBOE to edit textbooks. The state attorney general subsequently writes an opinion that interprets this law strictly, confirming that the SBOE can reject a textbook only if it does not meet physical specifications, fails to cover the state curriculum standards or contains factual errors. Since then, embers of the state board’s far-right faction and allied pressure groups have sought to overturn the law and remove limits on the board’s ability to censor textbooks. Even though those legislative limits remain in place, the far-right faction has sought to interpret the law to its advantage, essentially redefining “factual errors” to include ideological objections they have to content.

1996 - Censors attempt to delete certain photographs in new social studies textbooks, saying publishers went “overboard” in their inclusion of minorities. They also claim the textbooks overemphasize the cruelty experienced by slaves, demand that the age of Earth be determined by biblical genealogy rather than fossil evidence and attempt to eliminate discussions of endangered animals and environmental issues.

2001 - The Texas Public Policy Foundation and other pressure groups successfully lobby to ban an environmental science textbook they called “anti-free enterprise” and “anti- Christian.” Among the criticisms are those regarding textbook information on global warming and the U.S. role in creating pollution. The textbook had been used at the college level for several years. Publishers make changes to other books that significantly curtail the talk of endangered species and discussions of Native American cultures.

2002 - Again under pressure from groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, publishers remove passages in social studies textbooks that have positive references to Islam and that note any negative characteristics of capitalism. They also delete references to events happening “millions of years ago,” changing them to “in the distant past” in order to avoid conflict with biblical timelines.

2003 - The Seattle-based Discovery Institute mounts a campaign to alter the discussion of evolution in biology textbooks and suggests that evolution is controversial and unproven. (The Discovery Institute supports a religion-based concept called “intelligent design.”) After the Texas Freedom Network launches a campaign to counter these efforts, the state board votes to approve the biology textbooks with discussions of evolution intact.

2004 - Publishers beat censors to the punch by submitting to the state four new high school health textbooks that include no state-mandated information on responsible pregnancy prevention and ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases other than through abstinence-only-until-marriage. The state board ultimately votes to approve the four textbooks after publishers include very limited information on contraception only in Teacher’s Editions. Student’s Editions still lack this basic, medically accurate information. Publishers also agree to define marriage in middle and high school textbooks as a “lifelong union between a man and a woman.” Although that change is not required by the state’s curriculum standards, publishers agree to the change after SBOE members argue that the textbooks subtly promote same-sex relationships with phrases like “married partners” and “couples.”

2005 - State board member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, a key member of the board’s far-right faction, delivers a church lecture on evolution and creationism in his hometown. During the lecture, McLeroy points out that the strategy for promoting instruction on creationism in public schools relies first on undermining the science behind evolution. McLeroy also claims that only the board’s four “really conservative, orthodox Christians” opposed the adoption of evolution-based biology textbooks in 2003. (http://www.tfn.org/publiceducation/textbooks/mcleroy/index.php)

2006 - In the 2006 elections, the far-right faction wins two more seats, giving it effective control of the state board. The same year, the board begins a systematic review of all state curriculum standards, starting with English/language arts.

2007 - Gov. Rick Perry appoints far-right faction member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, as the state board’s new chairman. McLeroy and other far-right board members later claim they do not favor including information on intelligent design/creationism in the state’s science curriculum standards and textbooks. They renew their desire, however, to force publishers to include so-called “weaknesses” of the theory of evolution in their textbooks. That approach mirrors the anti-evolution strategy outlined in McLeroy’s 2005 church lecture, in which he said the first step in promoting Bible-based creationism in public schools is to undermine the science behind evolution. Work on the revision of the state’s science standards begins. In November, the board votes to reject a third-grade mathematics textbooks but refuses to explain why. That action came despite state law limiting the reasons why the board can reject a textbook. Board chairman McLeroy acknowledges to a reporter that the board’s action sets a precedent for future textbook adoptions.

2008 - The state board's far-right faction essentially rejects nearly three years of hard work by classroom teachers and curriculum specialists to revise the state's language arts curriculum standards. The faction at first tries to establish reading lists for all language arts classes, charging in some cases that teachers are making decisions about reading material based on the ethnicity of writers rather than the quality of the literature. Failing to win approval for a state reading list, the faction rewrote other parts of the proposed standards the night before the final vote on approval. Over the objections of classroom teachers and specialists who said the revisions were haphazard and unwise, the board approved the substantially revised document.

2009 - During lengthy public hearings and divisive debate, the state board's far-right faction demanded that new public school science standards require students to learn so-called "weaknesses" of evolution. Faction members particularly attacked the concepts of common descent and natural selection despite the objections of dismayed scientists, including Nobel laureates. The board ultimately rejected the requirement that students learn phony "weaknesses" of evolution, but the faction succeeded in inserting curriculum language that opened the door to creationist attacks on evolution in science classrooms.

2010 - Contining a pattern established with the adoption of language arts and science curriculum standards the previous two years, the State Board of Education disregarded objections from classroom teachers and scholars in the revision of social studies standards. The board adopted standards with serious flaws, including a suggestion that separtation of church and state isn't a key principle of the Constitution, playing down the central role of slavery in causing the Civil War and distorting the influence of religion in American history.