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Textbook Publishers Learn to Avoid Messing With Texas
by Joshua Howard
03 July 2002 14:27 UTC
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Following the recent article posted about the NY State Board of Regents' 
editing of literary works, this article (if not describing something a good 
deal more expected) should be of interest.

(NB: Mari Jo Buhle, identified in the article as one of the co-authors of 
"Out of Many" is also the co-editor with Paul Buhle and Dan Georgakas of the 
"Encyclopedia of the American Left.")


Textbook Publishers Learn to Avoid Messing With Texas
June 29, 2002

"Out of Many," the work of four respected historians, is
one of the biggest sellers among American history college
textbooks in the United States, but it is not likely to be
available to Texas high school students taking advanced
placement history. Conservative groups in Texas objected to
two paragraphs in the nearly 1,000-page text that explained
that prostitution was rampant in cattle towns during the
late 19th century, before the West was fully settled.

"It makes it sound that every woman west of the Mississippi
was a prostitute," said Grace Shore, the Republican
chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education. "The book
says that there were 50,000 prostitutes west of the
Mississippi. I doubt it, but even if there were, is that
something that should be emphasized? Is that an important
historical fact?"

The publisher, Pearson Prentice Hall, has quietly withdrawn
the book from consideration by the board. Wendy Spiegel, a
vice president for communications at the company, said it
had another textbook that better fit the state's

Textbook battles are legendary in Texas, where conservative
critics frequently complain of liberal bias, and liberals
counter with charges of censorship. The latest round, on
July 17, when the board begins public hearings on which
history and social studies books to adopt, promises to be
particularly fierce. Nine conservative organizations have
formed a coalition, recruiting 250 volunteers to vet more
than 150 books.

The outcome has far more than regional interest. After
California, Texas is the biggest buyer of textbooks in the
United States, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the
national market. In fact, conservative activists in Texas
say they have already received calls from leading
publishers anxious to discuss the forthcoming history and
social studies adoptions. Many publishers write their books
with the Texas and California markets in mind, but complain
of political pressure.

"The bottom line is that Texas and California are the
biggest buyers of textbooks in the country, and what we
adopt in Texas is what the rest of the country gets," said
Carol Jones, the field director of the Texas chapter of
Citizens for a Sound Economy, part of the coalition
monitoring books for errors, examples of political bias,
omissions or information that it deems offensive and that
it says gives the texts a liberal slant.

Peggy Venable, director of the Texas chapter, said
executives at Pearson Prentice Hall withdrew "Out of Many,"
because they "wisely didn't want to jeopardize their larger
sales in the state by having that book as its poster

This year, Pearson Prentice Hall is offering 27 other books
for adoption in Texas, ranging from texts for first grade
social studies to ones for Advanced Placement world
history. The potential prize is great: Texas has allocated
$700 million over the next two years for textbooks and
related materials in history and social studies - a sizable
chunk of the nation's $4.5 billion textbook market.

Most states, including New York, choose textbooks on a
school-by-school or district-by-district basis, but Texas
and California buy them through a formal statewide process.
The Texas board votes in November, giving the state's
schools lists of approved textbooks to choose from.

In 1995, the Texas legislature sought to eliminate
politically charged conflicts by passing a law that limited
the grounds for a book's rejection to physical defects or
"factual inaccuracy." In recent years, though, conservative
groups have become adept at blocking books by arguing that
political bias and the omission of certain facts constitute
"factual inaccuracy." Moreover, the provision in the Texas
Education Code that textbooks should promote democracy,
patriotism and the free-enterprise system has been used to
attack certain books.

Thus the Texas case raises a series of new questions about
how to write history. What constitutes an "error" in a
history or science textbook? What facts are central and
which can be omitted? Should history books inculcate
patriotism and appreciation of free enterprise? And most
significantly, who should decide those questions?

The conservative groups are feeling confident after last
year's adoption process for environmental science texts, in
which they succeeded in persuading the Board of Education
to reject two texts.

Among other things, those books were criticized as
"anti-technology," "anti-Christian" and "anti-American,"
and for saying there was scientific consensus that global
warming was changing the earth's climate.

An environmental science book that ultimately won approval,
"Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment" published
by Kendall/Hunt, was partly financed by the Mineral
Information Institute, a consortium of mining companies.
Duggan Flanakin, who wrote influential reports on the
textbooks for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a
conservative organization, used to work for the United
States Bureau of Mines. And Ms. Shore, the Board of
Education chairwoman, is a co-owner of TEC Well Service
Inc., a Longview, Tex., company that repairs and deepens
oil wells as well as produces gas and oil.

"The oil and gas industry should be consulted," she told
The Austin American-Statesman, a daily newspaper, at the
time of last year's board vote. "We always get a raw deal."

One Dallas publisher, J. M. LeBel Enterprises, after having
Jane L. Person's "Environmental Science: How the World
Works and Your Place in It" rejected on Nov. 8, spent most
of the next night working with state education officials to
incorporate a series of changes in this high school
textbook suggested by one of the foundation's critiques.
These changes resulted in the book's approval.

Ms. Venable and other conservative critics insist that they
do not want to edit or rewrite textbooks, only to assure
that they are stripped of ideology and offer a
straightforward, objective statement of facts.

But René LeBel, the publishing company's president,
deplored the process, even though he maintained that he did
not alter the book's fundamental content. "It was a book
burning," he said. "It was 100 percent political."

At the suggestion of the foundation, the LeBel company
rewrote the sentence "Destruction of the tropical rain
forest could affect weather over the entire planet" so that
it now reads, "Tropical rain forest ecosystems impact
weather over the entire planet." It also added these
sentences: "In the past, the earth has been much warmer
than it is now, and fossils of sea creatures show us that
the sea level was much higher than it is today. So does it
really matter if the world gets warmer?"

The foundation also succeeded in having this sentence
deleted: "Most experts on global warming feel that
immediate action should be taken to curb global warming."

"We are now telling them what to write and what not to
write," Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democratic member of the
Board of Education, said of authors. (The board has 10
Republicans and 5 Democrats.)

But others say this is simply democracy at work. "We
citizens are truly the clients," Ms. Venable said. "It is
our children's education and future at stake, and our tax
dollars are paying for the books. If people in Texas are
more conservative than people in Massachusetts or New York,
so be it."

Singled out for particular censure at last year's hearings
and ultimately rejected by the Board of Education was
"Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future," by
Daniel D. Chiras, published by Jones & Bartlett, a small
company in Sudbury, Mass. The book is in its sixth edition
and has been used widely in colleges for the past 20 years.

Professor Chiras, who teaches at the University of Denver
and the University of Colorado, does not disguise his
environmental activism. "Things can't go on as they have
been," he writes in the opening chapter. "We must change
our ways." He criticizes the "throwaway mentality" and
"obsession with growth" in American life, disapproves of
the environmental policies of Presidents Ronald Reagan and
George Bush Sr. and praises those of Bill Clinton.

The day before the Board of Education voted, the Texas
Public Policy Foundation distributed a 24-page critique
that listed all of what it called the Chiras book's errors.
At one point, for example, the critique attacks Professor
Chiras for repeating the "oft-used falsehood that over 100
million Americans are breathing unhealthy air." It points
out that since pollution levels in most American cities
exceed allowable standards only on certain days of the
year, "on most days, the air in every city in the U.S. is
healthy." But is this inaccuracy or two different ways of
interpreting the same facts?

"I think it's really dangerous that the Texas Public Policy
Foundation has so much influence that you have publishers
writing to please the conservative right at the risk of
suppressing alternative views and critically examining the
issues," said Dean DeChambeau, director of development for
Jones & Bartlett. "We lost a quarter of a million dollars'
worth of business. Other publishers, who would lose
millions of dollars of business if they lost an adoption,
are more likely to be influenced by the groups."

After the battle over environmental science, Ms. Venable
and other activists on the textbook front were contacted by
a number of publishers. Their hope was that by consulting
critics in advance, they might avoid a battle at the
hearings that could lead to their books' rejection.

"I think there is a very great danger of self-censorship,"
said Byron Hollinshead, the president of American
Historical Publications, the New York company that produced
"The History of US," a middle school textbook distributed
by Oxford University Press. "If a big publisher produces an
edition specifically for Texas and then hears from these
groups that they want a series of changes, they are going
to make them."

Texas holds adoptions for different academic subjects each
year; it generally replaces textbooks in a given subject
every six years, so that books approved this time would be
in circulation until 2009.

When Pearson Prentice Hall decided to submit "Out of Many:
A History of the American People," the company hired a high
school teacher to alert it to potential problems. "They
were mostly questions involving sexuality, homosexuality,
AIDS, prostitution, things like that," said Mari Jo Buhle,
a professor of history at Brown University and one of the
book's co-authors. The teacher suggested, for example,
taking out the paragraphs that dealt with the gay rights
movement in the 1970's and the development of birth
control. The authors agreed to make some concessions by
removing profanity in historical quotations.

But they refused to change anything of substance, like the
subsection on gay rights, the mention of Margaret Sanger
and the development of contraception and the "Cowgirls and
Prostitutes" section. The passages on prostitution tell
about the economic forces that pushed women into
prostitution and the health hazards they were exposed to.
The book's critics felt it had no place in American

"I don't mean that we should sweep things under the rug,"
Ms. Venable said. "But the children should see the hope and
the good things about America."

But it is inevitably tricky to reconcile Texas's
requirement that textbooks promote democracy, patriotism
and free enterprise with the historian's supposedly
disinterested pursuit of truth. The politics of the day are
always going to influence the presentation of history, said
John Mack Faragher, a history professor at Yale University
and the lead author of "Out of Many."

"There was no women's history until there was a women's
movement, there was no African-American history before
there was a civil rights movement," he said. "Historical
practice is very much determined by the things that people
are concerned about."

"History is ultimately a moral art, and it is about
values," he continued. "It is not merely about the
collection of facts. It is about the way we put those facts
together and the meaning we give them. Arguments about
facts are arguments about meaning."


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