In the tightly knit world of educators, there is a well-understood saying that says, “as Texas goes, so goes the nation!” Thankfully, that’s not a sound piece of political wisdom, but it refers to the way school textbook publishers across America cater to the Lone Star state. In a report written for the New York Review of Books in June of last year, Gail Collins pinpointed the underlying theory behind that saying,
“As a market, the state was so big and influential that national publishers tended to gear their books toward whatever it wanted. Back in 1994, the board requested four hundred revisions in five health textbooks it was considering. The publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston was the target for the most changes, including the deletion of toll-free numbers for gay and lesbian groups and teenage suicide prevention groups. Holt announced that it would pull its book out of the Texas market rather than comply. (A decade later Holt was back with a new book that eliminated the gay people.)
Given the high cost of developing a single book, the risk of messing with Texas was high. “One of the most expensive is science,” McGee said. “You have to hire medical illustrators to do all the art.” When she was in the business, the cost of producing a new biology book could run to $5 million. “The investments are really great and it’s all on risk.”
At the risk of stating the obvious, Texas is a highly conservative state and some of the most radical members of the religious right have dominated the Texas State Board of Education since the early 1960’s. Members of this influential board in the state of Texas are chosen by public elections. These elections have historically drawn very small numbers of Texans to the polls. Another factor in the Texas school book situation is that there are a lot of really rich Texans. Rich Texans tend to be white, Christian, Republican, and more conservative than almost any comparable demographic in the country.
These radical right-wingers have interjected their theology and philosophy directly into the Texas schools and the nation’s textbooks. Author Tod Kelly, writing for Ordinary Times in Politics and Culture listed just some of the educational contributions of Texas conservatives:
- Instructional materials that say human racial differences can be traced to Noah’s ark.
- Many courses teach that the Bible is “the written word of God,” and is literally true.
- Many courses teach that the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old.
- Many textbooks attempt to evangelize; the forward of one textbook states, “May this study be of value to you. May you fully come to believe that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.’ And may you have ‘life in His name.’”
- Some students are being taught that Judaism is a “flawed” and “incomplete” religion.
- In many “comparative religion” courses, only End-of-Times Protestantism is taught.
- The coursework for many of these classes is simply memorizing certain passages from the Bible.
- Students are taught that the United States is meant to be a Christian nation; phony quotes from the Founding Fathers are placed alongside actual quotes to “prove” this.
A recent piece in Think Progress pointed out how one school system in Texas was teaching sex education. The Canyon Independent School District uses a curriculum called Reality CHECK which proudly spells out their basic (and apparently only) principle was, “Abstinence from sexual activity is presented as the preferred choice of behavior in relationship to sexual activity for adolescents both physically and emotionally.”
According to the piece, teachers were instructed to use a new toothbrush or a new stick of gum as a representation of a virgin, and an old nasty toothbrush or a wad of used gum (in my high school, it was known as ABC gum) to represent a person who had been sexually active before marriage. The emotional and psychological impact of that kind of perverse analogy could potentially devastating to a young person who somehow “slipped” along the way, or who acted like a perfectly normal human being.
“Indeed, there can be serious consequences to this type of abstinence-only approach to sexual health instruction. Earlier this year, Elizabeth Smart — a kidnapping and sexual assault victim who now works to prevent predatory crimes — made national headlines when she pointed out emphasizing the importance of purity can make rape victims feel dirty and worthless. Smart described hearing the exact same gum analogy when she was growing up. And after she was repeatedly sexually assaulted, that message had an extremely negative impact on her. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value.”
The real issue here though, is not what the looney birds in Texas are teaching in their schools, but the fact that “as Texas goes, so goes the nation!” We need to stand up as a nation that honors education and science, and tell Texas and the publishers of school textbooks, to shape up.
h/t: Think Progress