Textbook Censorship in Texas
For more than two decades the State Board of Education has been a key battleground in the religious right's culture wars. Following are some of the key state board members and pressure groups that have been involved in efforts to censor textbooks on issues such as the teaching of evolution, the relationship between religion and government and sex education.
Don McLeroy, R-College Station, board member, '99-'11 (chair, '07-'09)
McLeroy chaired the board during the controversial revision of science curriculum standards. He joined other far-right board members in insisting that the new standards require students to learn so-called "weaknesses" of evolution that creationists have promoted (and scientists have debunked) for decades. The state Senate failed to confirm Gov. Rick Perry's nomination of McLeroy for a second term as chair. McLeroy then lost his re-election bid for his board seat in the 2010 Republican primary.
Insists in an opinion column that science should be redefined to include study of the supernatural
Recording and transcript of a church lecture in which McLeroy makes his case against evolution and for creationism and suggests some of his colleagues on the board aren't good Christians because they support teaching about evolution
Argues in a New York Times article there are two systems of science: "a creationist system and a naturalist system"
Demands during the debate over new science curriculum standards that "somebody's gotta stand up to experts" (scientists)
Endorses an anti-evolution book in which the author writes that parents are "monsters" and pastors are "morons" if they want children to learn about evolution
Suggests that students in social studies classes learn that the infamous and discredited Red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy has been "vindicated"
Offers a rambling and bizarre argument that women and ethnic minorities should be thankful to "the majority" — white men — for voting, civil and equal rights
Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, board member, 2007-11
First elected in 2006, Dunbar chose not to run for re-election at the end of her term. During that time, however, the graduate of Pat Robertson's Regents law school became one of the most vocal opponents of teaching students established science about evolution and established law and scholarship about the constitutional separation of church and state. She also authored a number of stunning political screeds about public education and President Obama.
Calls the public schools she (at the time) helped govern "tyrannical," "unconstitutional" and "tools of perversion" [Related links here and here]
Charges that Barack Obama "truly sympathizes" with enemies out to destroy America and that Obama is poised to destroy the Constitution and take full control of the government [Related link]
Calls Barack Obama a "Marxist" and argues that "shared sacrifice and social responsibility smack of Marxist Communism"
Equates engaging scholars and other experts in writing curriculum standards to "pre-Holocaust Germany"
Argues that the Founders wanted a Christian America with "an emphatically Christian government"
Insists that the Founders never wanted a publicly funded education system and wanted government to promote religion [and here]
Argues against teaching students that the Constitution protects religious freedom by barring government from promoting one religion over all others
Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, board member, 2007-present
Among Mercer's earliest public political efforts were as leader of an anti-pornography group that in the mid-1990s called on Christians to boycott San Antonio convenience stories that sold magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse. He served one term in teh Texas House (2003-05). Contributions totaling $35,000 from San Antonio businessman James Leininger, a wealthy private school voucher advocate, and support from the Texas Home School Coalition PAC and a host of religious-right groups helped Mercer defeat a conservative Republican incumbent for a State Board of Education seat in 2006.
Compares supporters of teaching established science on evolution to slave traders and Nazis. [Original link no longer active]
Claims that established science on evolution can't be true because he's never seen a "cat-dog" or a "cat-rat"
Said that he would "pray" for his state board colleagues who had "allowed themselves to be constantly lobbied by prominent atheists and secular humanists" in the debate over evolution in the revision of the science standards [Original link no longer active; archived web file available at TFN]
Claims that language arts teachers who lobbied the board on curriculum standards were "mean," lied and cheated; brags that he and other board members "spanked" them by rejecting their pleas on new language arts standards [Original link no longer active; archived web file available at TFN]
Claims that "blacks or Hispanics or any other groups of color or race" were less discriminated against than "any Christian American who would dare stand up for the protection of their family" [1996 commentary on file at TFN]
More on Ken Mercer
David Bradley, R-Beaumont, board member, 1997-present
Suggested that a photograph of his 2008 general election opponent visting the Taj Mahal four years earlier was evidence that she wanted to teach Texas students an Islamic curriculum [Related link]
Former state board member's husband requested armed security at board meetings because of alleged threats from Bradley [Link no longer active; file available at TFN]
Rejects constitutional protections for separation of church and state
Rejects established science on evolution because "none of today’s scientists were around when the first frog crawled out of the pond"
More on David Bradley
Other State Board of Education Members
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The Seatlle-based Discovery Institute is one of the nation's major organizers of efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools at the state and local level. The organization promotes an alternative to evolution called "intelligent design," which mainstream scientists have long rejected as creationism dressed up in a lab coat.
Some of the nation’s most prominent advocates of “intelligent design”/creationism have populated the Discovery Institute’s list of associates. Among them are William A. Dembski, a research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Raymond Bohlin, president of Texas-based Probe Ministries.
The Discovery Institute has suffered several setbacks in recent years. In 2005, for example, a Republican federal judge ruled in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District that the teaching of “intelligent design”/creationism in the public schools of Dover, Penn., is unconstitutional. The judge said that evidence presented at trial made it overwhelmingly clear that “(intelligent design) is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.” The next year, in 2006, proponents of teaching “intelligent design” also suffered major electoral defeats in races for the Kansas and Ohio state boards of education. In 2003 the Texas State Board of Education refused to reject proposed new biology textbooks that did not include creationist arguments against evolution. In 2009 the Texas board refused to included in the state's science curriculum standards a requirement that students learn about the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. The Discovery Institute has used such language in the past to promote the discredited argument that evolution is plagued by "weaknesses" and is a controversial concept in mainstream science.
Texans for Better Science Education (TBSE)
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Evolution opponents created Texans for Better Science Education in the summer of 2003, during that year’s heated debate over proposed new biology textbooks for the state’s public schools. The group’s founder, Mark Ramsey of Spring near Houston, and other spokespersons demanded that publishers cast doubt on the science behind evolution in their textbooks. The group criticized the textbooks for failing to include discussions of creationist-fabricated “weaknesses” of the theory evolution.
Ramsey is also Web site administrator for the Greater Houston Creation Association (GHCA). The GHCA advocates for “young Earth creationism.” According to its Web site, the group is:
“an organization of Christians who take the Bible in its original manuscripts to be the actual inspired Word of God preserved by Him over time for our use as an unchanging source of truth. We find that the internal scriptural evidence overwhelmingly presents a young supernatural creation followed later by several world changing events of supernatural judgment including expulsion from the original paradise and “curse” of the ground, a cataclysmic global flood that radically altered much of Earth’s geology, and a “confusion” of language that forced the dispersion of people groups around the world. These events are as much a key to the past as observation of the present and they preclude the uniformitarian approach to understanding the distant past. We highly value the scientific method and the body of scientific knowledge based on observation and experimental testing of hypotheses (which is necessarily done in the present) but we reject the uniformitarian assumption in making inferences about the past.”
TBSE has occasionally waded into other issues areas, including the debate over what students in social studies classes should learn about religion and government. The group also has promoted Republican Party politics. In 2010, for example, the group posted on its website the GOP's "Pledge to America" from that year's congressional campaign.
Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF)
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Founded by wealthy San Antonio businessman James Leininger, the Texas Public Policy Foundation bills itself as a conservative research organization/think tank. In the textbook arena, TPPF has produced reports often written by hired ‘experts’ that detail alleged textbook errors and call for wholesale content changes or rejection of textbooks they oppose. A Texas Monthly story in 2002 questioned the credibility of TPPF’s reports and overall involvement in the textbook review process, saying the group’s participation “raises questions about its ultimate goals” and about “whether an organization founded by a relentless critic of Texas public schools can consistently produce credible research [regarding public school curricula].” Editorial boards have also criticized TPPF for editing textbooks based on ideology rather than factual content.
TPPF provided the initial spark in the battle over the State Board of Education's revision of social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2009-10. Early in 2009, the board's chairman at the time, Don McLeroy, leaked to TPPF early working documents curriculum writers were using to revise the standards. TPPF then charged that those documents revealed a "bias against individualism, against the free enterprise system, and against personal responsibility.” The organization also claimed that curriculum writers were removing key historical figures like George Washington, holidays like Independence Day and patriotic symbols like the Liberty Bell. In response, curriculum writers explained that TPPF's unfair charges were based on preliminary and incomplete drafts as the teams worked to streamline the standards and move examples to appropriate locations in the K-12 curriculum. Never the less, TPPF's distorted and politically charged claims became the foundation for right-wing efforts over the next year to portray teachers and scholars on the curriculum teams as anti-American (and, later, anti-Christian) leftists.
Texas Eagle Forum
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The Eagle Forum is well known for its criticism of immigration policies, feminism, secular society and measures to protect civil and equal rights for gay people. Texas Eagle Forum also wades into textbook and curriculum battles at the State Board of Education. The group's national president, Phyllis Schlafly, complains about a "leftwing bias" in history textbooks that she says distorst discussions of right-wing heroes like Joseph McCarthy. In fact, she praised the State Board of Education in 2010 for adopting history standards that suggest (inaccurately) that McCarthy's Red-baiting tactics and smears have been vindicated by new research. Representatives of the group's Texas chapter often testify at State Board of Education hearings in Austin.
Americans for Prosperity/Citizens for a Sound Economy
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Americans for Prosperity, formerly Citizens for a Sound Economy, has focused mostly on social studies curriculum and textbooks in battles at the State Board of Education. In past legislative sessions, its Texas affiliate has worked on a variety of social issues, such as supporting vouchers and granting more power to the SBOE. The group has been a leading supporter of textbook censorship, criticizing textbook content as anti-Christian, part of “a radical environmental activist agenda” and “propaganda that provides positive references to Islam.”
Educational Research Analysts
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Mel and Norma Gabler of Longview in East Texas began reviewing textbooks in the 1960s, eventually establishing Educational Research Analysts. Mel Gabler died in 2004, followed by Norma's death in 2007. Neal Frey, a longtime textbook reviewer for the Gables, runs the organization today. The Gablers and Frey have criticized textbooks for coverage of evolution and what they see as a failure to promote phonics-based reading instruction, insufficient support for principles of free enterprise, a failure to promote a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, a lack of respect for Judeo-Christian morals, failure to emphasize abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction in health textbooks, and the "politically correct degradation of academics." The group's "reviews" are often really political documents in which many textbook "errors" are simply ideological objections to content.
The Gablers were savvy manipulators of the news media. For years the couple would make a big splash by releasing lists of sometimes hundreds of "errors" they had identified in proposed textbooks up for adoption in Texas. While some were actual errors (such as incorrect dates), many of the "errors" were political objections to content. In recent years, however, Frey has adopted more of a behind-the-scenes approach to changing textbook content.
In 2004, for example, Frey passed on to far-right State Board of Education members a briefing paper attacking proposed new health textbooks in Texas as somehow promoting homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Yet the student textbooks included no discussions of sexual orientation, and the teacher editions barely touched on the topic. But Frey's paper and far-right board members argued that the books promoted same-sex marriage through the use of "asexual stealth phrases," such as "married couples" and "married people," rather than using language making it clear that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. Publishers agreed to include a definition of marriage in their textbooks.
Texans for Life Coalition
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Texans for Life Coalition opposes abortion and was a prominent supporter of the State Board of Education's adoption of abstinence-only high school textbooks in 2004. The organization opposed adding to the textbooks information on contraception and other forms of prevention for sexually transmitted diseases.
Daughters of the American Revolution
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The Texas Society of the DAR is an affiliate of the national group, which is “dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.” (DAR Web site, 2004) In past textbook reviews, the Texas Society of the DAR has worked to keep textbooks free of “communist indoctrination” and to eliminate discussions of racial discrimination in history textbooks.
Various "Tea Party" activists worked in 2009-10 to promote political changes in new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. They argued, for example, that American history textbooks dwell too much on "negative" aspects of the nation's history, such as slavery. One Tea Party rally speaker in 2010 had, while serving as a member of a curriculum writing team the previous year, complained about an "over-representation of minorities" in the curriculum standards. Tea Party activists also argued that civil rights groups were engaging in "historical revisionism" by trying to include more information about the contributions of minorities to Texas and America in the social studies standards.
Controversies at the SBOE
Other TFN Resources