Texas Textbook Controversy


LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: Do you think that the history that we have a lot of in this country was written by liberals?

DON MCLEROY: Oh, absolutely, yes.

SEVERSON: Don McLeroy has been practicing dentistry for over 30 years, and until recently he was chairman of the Texas school board—the board that stirred up a hornet’s nest with its efforts to amend Texas history books for the state’s nearly 5 million students.

MCLEROY: Some people characterize, oh, we’re making our standards lean to the right, oh my gosh, you know. The left has dominated a lot of history.

Don McLeroy

SEVERSON: Barbara Cargill has been on the board 6 years. She teaches science to children and agrees with McLeroy on most issues.

BARBARA CARGILL: We want to take all of the content that liberal publishers might have and want to pour into the classroom, and we serve as the filter for the parents and students and the teachers to kind of make sure that what gets through is really the best information.

SEVERSON: There are 15 state school board members here in Texas—ten Republican, five Democrat. They’re elected to four-year terms, and every ten years they’re required to reevaluate and make any changes they deem necessary to Texas textbooks. But never before have there been so many changes, almost all of them from Republican members—changes that ignore many of the recommendations Texas history teachers were mandated to make and spent a year compiling.

This is Mary Helen Berlanga, a lawyer and a Democrat who has been on the school board longer than any other member.

(speaking to Mary Helen Berlanga): Have you ever had anything like this in your 27 years?

post02-texastextbooksMARY HELEN BERLANGA: No, never, and I think if you look over the 300 amendments you’re going to see that it is pretty much a rewrite of the original book that was given to us.

SEVERSON: It’s difficult for outsiders and even board members to make sense of all the amendments that have been offered, but most agree they paint conservatives and conservative values in a more favorable light. They extol the virtues of free enterprise and American foreign policy and emphasize that this country was built on Christian principles.

MCLEROY: I would like to see the importance of religion to make sure that the role it played in the founding of our country and the acknowledgment of the founders’ dependence upon God that they wrote into the documents to make sure that that’s clearly presented.

CARGILL: I am the mother of two Eagle Scouts myself, so it was very important to me that a lot of the values would be upheld in the social studies curriculum, and so throughout the elementary standards you will see that our teachers are now required to teach their students about truthfulness, respect for oneself and for others, holding elected officials to their word, the duty that it is to vote, and you will see this language used over and over again starting in kindergarten and going through the 4th grade.

SEVERSON: Mary Helen Berlanga, like the other Democrats on the board, is a minority, and she argues that the contributions and treatment of minorities in Texas are “whitewashed” in the proposed standard changes.

BERLANGA: When it comes to the section on civil rights, they do not have anything that is specific to the Mexican-American experience.

Mary Helen Berlanga


BERLANGA: In Texas. The Mexican Americans were discriminated against. They weren’t allowed in theaters to buy popcorn and their drink to watch the movie until everyone else was seated, in some parts of the state. Mexican Americans were not allowed to go into a restaurant and eat because on the outside it would say “No Mexicans allowed, no dogs, no Negroes.”

PROFESSOR FRITZ FISCHER (Chairman, National Council for History Education): It’s very disturbing. I’m very concerned for the kids in Texas, the students in Texas.

SEVERSON: Fritz Fischer is a history professor at the University of Northern Colorado and chairman of the National Council for History Education. He believes board members should not be the ones to change history.

FISCHER: Standards should be written with people who work with the kids every day, who are professionally trained to do this sort of thing, and the government shouldn’t be dictating, the political leaders shouldn’t be dictating what is taught in the classroom.

Prof. Fritz Fischer

SEVERSON: When Professor Fischer refers to the government, he’s speaking of the elected school board members. He says most boards around the country make only a few changes to those submitted by the experts. McLeroy himself added about 60 amendments.

MCLEROY: Conservatives on our board are the only ones—the Christian conservatives—that are able to sit there and to think for themselves and say, well, wait. Is this really good policy? Should we just trust what’s being brought to us? Should we just rubber-stamp it?

SEVERSON: Some amendments were simply to change words or terminology. What was “democratic societies” becomes “constitutional republics.” “Capitalism” is no longer in favor. The preferred term is “free enterprise.”

BERLANGA: One of the right-wing fanatics said that capitalism had a bad connotation—that people referred to us as a “capitalist pig.”

SEVERSON: Lawrence Allen, a Democrat board member and an educator with two masters degrees, opposes changing the word “capitalism.”

LAWRENCE ALLEN JR: I think there are a number of citizens today who say, well, I don’t have a job, I don’t have any money, so I don’t know how wonderful the free enterprise system has been. I think that capitalism and these systems have made some of our citizens very fat and a large number of them very thin, and so I don’t favor that at all.

post05-texastextbooksSEVERSON: The teachers review committee recommended changing the word “expansionism,” as in American expansionism, to “imperialism.” The board rejected “imperialism.”

FISCHER: And there’s no other way you can explain, for example, the United States taking over Hawaii. Now eventually Hawaii becomes a state. Eventually it’s integrated into the United States. But originally in the nineteenth century it was clearly imperialism. There’s no other way to explain it.

SEVERSON: The board’s majority added an amendment that seems to justify the dark years of the McCarthy era. They believe documents known as the Venona Papers confirm suspicions of communist infiltration of the US government.

FISHER: The way the standard is written, as far as I’ve seen it so far, says that they must include information that exonerates McCarthy. In point of fact the documents they’re referring to do no such thing.

CARGILL: One of the chapters in this US history book was called “Nightmare at Omaha,” and some of the board members were very concerned about what was covered on this page—Americans landing at Omaha Beach.

post06-texastextbooksSEVERSON: So board members met with the book publisher and got the title changed from ‘Nightmare at Omaha” to “A Day for Heroes.”

CARGILL: The details of the battle are still here. However, because of the sacrifices made that day by our American soldiers we want our students to learn that these men were truly heroes, and so it changes the tone that the teacher uses in the classroom, or if a student is reading a textbook it changes their whole mindset, and this is what we want.

FISCHER: Theoretically something like this could happen from the left some day as well as from the right. It’s to focus on what is good history teaching, and what is the purpose of history in the classroom? It’s to teach judgment and critical thinking. It’s not to teach a particular political version of the past.

MCLEROY: They need to have an accurate view of history. Accuracy, balance, free of bias, and I’ll vote for that every day of the week.

SEVERSON: He won’t be voting much longer, at least not on the board. McLeroy was defeated in the recent election, but he’ll continue to serve through the remainder of the year. The amendment process is not over yet. The Texas School Board meets one more time.

SEVERSON: Might there still be more amendments then?

CARGILL: Absolutely, yeah.

SEVERSON: Allen believes there may be far-reaching consequences to the board’s final vote.

ALLEN: There are other elected officials that are watching this who are saying that maybe the state board has run its course because of some of what they call hijacking the public curriculum, and so there are state representatives and other legislators out there ready to do away with the power of the state board in this type of activity.

SEVERSON: Texas purchases so many textbooks it drives the price down so much other states often buy exactly the same book. That’s why educators around the country are watching what happens here very closely.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Corpus Christi.

  • Sally Seaver Shabaka

    I have read or heard about objective statistics regarding the political mindset of professors at the university level — that some 90% or so are liberal in their political views. Presumably, these professors are the ones who form the current thinking about history that gets captured in school textbooks. I think it is a good thing for the Texas school board to examine textbooks with a critical eye and not just accept every textbook as-is.

    We also have to recognize that education: elementary through high school is a big arena for the culture wars that are taking place in our society. There’s bound to be controversy.

    We hope that there will be a strong effort to try for objectivity and truth; human beings, however, are by nature subjective and wanting the stories of the past told according to their own point of view.

  • Maria Mendieta

    I am absolutely appalled by the proposed revision and the by the mere fact that these politicians think it their place in the world to rewrite history. We are doomed to repeat our failures if we do not learn from our history–our ACCURATE history.

    This is a slippery slope that is bound to end in catastrophe for generations to come. Misinformation and lack of the right information is what creates prejudice, racism, ignorance, intolerance, and war.

    For a state and country that so avidly pronounced itself against the Soviet Union, we are becoming more and more like them as the years go by, but in all the wrong ways.

  • Eden Anderson

    I love the way Lucky Severson tries to tell both sides and i get to make the decision about how i feel about the issues. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to understand the “other” side.

    L. Anderson

  • Janice Schattman

    I am religious but not of a conservative stripe. I used to see Christian fundamentalists as benign fellow travelers, all reaching for the same Spirit by their peculiar lights. Now, because of this and other political power plays, I see them as enemies to be beaten.

  • Clinton Freeman

    “I have read or heard about objective statistics regarding the political mindset of professors at the university level — that some 90% or so are liberal in their political views.”

    I have no idea where have no idea where you would EVEN FIND such statistics. Words like “STATISTICS” and “OBJECTIVE” have specific agreed upon meanings that have developed over time with the input of many, many people. It isn’t a matter of what a hand full of people sitting in a room “feel.”
    The thing university professors most have in common, and possibly the only thing they have in common, is they are supposed to be educated. The “liberal” in “liberal arts” refers to the way people look for, and use, evidence needed to help them figure out what is more likely to be true. “Liberal” doesn’t have anything to do with belonging to a particular political party or having a particular social agenda.

    Be that as it may, it is really beside the point. Textbooks are not written by polling all university professors. Even if they were, a lot of the time the professors wouldn’t all agree, but those debates aren’t usually the sort of thing that would end up in a K-12 textbook anyway. The stuff that makes it in textbooks are overwhelming agreed up regardless of what other political, social, religious, ideological, etc. beliefs experts hold.
    When we say “expert” we aren’t talking about people who just flip coins or throw darts at a board.
    It takes time to learn how to be a dentist. It takes time to learn how to play a guitar, be a good cook, or do most things in life. Why wouldn’t it take time to learn how to be a historian? We are talking about people who have spend thousand of hours, individually, and millions of hours, collectively doing research on this subjects.

    Why should the opinions and agendas of a handful of self-proclaimed “Christian conservatives” be more important than those of all these experts? More importantly for a democracy, why should their opinions and agendas be more important then the will of the majority of the people in their state?
    From my understanding of what it means to be “Christian” and what it means to be “conservatives,” these people are neither. The Bible calls people like these “hypocrites” and political theories call them “tyrants”

    To them “free from bias” really means “required do be bias in the way I want.” Unfortunately, there is no way to be neutral in situation like this. They want it to be a win/lose situation and will not settle for anything less.
    They are, and should, be free to think whatever they want to think or believe whatever they want to believe, but not at the expense of the truth and the freedom of everyone else.

  • george in Texas

    Sometimes capitalism is free enterprise, sometimes it’s state sponsored. One nation’s expansionism is anothers imperialism. One’s christian nation is another’s nation of chistians. My understanding is we are a consitutional republic that practices democratic principles. However, when we begin to replace the scientific method with religious dogma and depreciated the contributions of Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson, I’d say we may be turning our public schools into fundamentalist sunday schools.

  • david scott

    Although, I personally am so far to the left that even the democrats appear to me to be “right-wing,” I consider myself to be a strict constitutionalist. It is my opinion that since its inception there has been an organized and systematic assault by the conservatives in the United States (and in the other industrialized nations) on the basic human rights of everyone on the planet. The “War on Drugs”; “War on Terror”; “War on Communism” and a host of other wars waged by the right wing are really nothing more than a War on People–an excuse to erode civil rights to the point of non-existence.

  • Eric Wward

    Sally Seaver Shabaka – Hmmm…do you realize you stated that you “heard” about “objective statistics” that say that 90% of professeors or liberal. First of all, in order to be a professor, you have to have a Master’s degree, and it is proven that the more educated you are, the more liberal you are. From people like myself, that makes sense considering we think most right wingers are basically ignorant. However, back to your statement…are you area of how ridiculous your premise is? You have “heard of objective statistics…”? Where did you hear about them? From whom did you hear them, and were they objective? Where did they get those facts? 90% Hmm….53.8% of all stats are made up on the spot! Do you get it? I seriously doubt it.
    Tell me…can you name a single time in history where the “conservative” perspective was the “just” one? Me neither.

  • Brandon A

    “One of the right-wing fanatics said that capitalism had a bad connotation—that people referred to us as a “capitalist pig.””

    So…. we’ll be called “free economist pigs” in the future…?

    “I would like to see the importance of religion to make sure that the role it played in the founding of our country and the acknowledgment of the founders’ dependence upon God that they wrote into the documents to make sure that that’s clearly presented.”

    When creating the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution, the founding fathers were less “Oh Lord God, please let our country grow and prosper” and more like “Oh God, I hope this works.”

    All in all I think Texas needs to get over itself and move along. I understand they want to look at things from a less “liberal” side, but looking at a liberal document with conservative views doesn’t balance it all out and make it right. Out of all the states, the worst off in this country are the Southern, more “traditional/conservative” states. They have higher rates of poverty, less access to public services, lowest graduation rates, least amount of bachelor’s degrees per capita, lowest income levels, highest rates of obesity, highest capital punishment stats (surprising for the “Religious” part of the US), highest teen pregnancies (Texas has the highest per capita… I guess the “abstinence only” stuff isn’t getting across too well, huh?)… the list goes on and on. The only thing they have are low taxes and their church dogma.

    But clearly those two things have been working out sooooo well that the next thing they need to do is make it better by instilling their views into text books so that those little kids who might accidentally slip through the cracks and become more liberal and less conservative will not have to suffer. God forbid we have kids grow up in Texas who believed in “progress” when it is so clearly shown that the southern lifestyle is the way to go.

    If you want to check the statistics yourself, here’s one of my sources: http://www.statemaster.com/index.php

  • Kim

    Well, interesting reading of your thoughts from a conservative’s perspective. We are “enemies to be beaten.” Tsk, tsk Janice. You sound very open-minded. Clinton, you say the conservative board members are like the hypocrites mentioned in the Bible. In what way? I’m guessing you’ve not read the Bible to know for sure. And George, don’t worry, the classrooms in our country are far from becoming fundamentalist sunday schools. They are, however, getting closer to resembling mini-mosques, and from how discipline is carried out in the Middle East, I’d be more concerned about that than Christian values permeating American students’ precious minds. Eric, you’re a bully who doesn’t know how (or care) to fight fair – shame on you. And Brandon, I can only imagine what your definition of progress is…does it have anything to do with forging ahead while leaving morality behind?

  • John C

    Gee Sally, I’ve heard from objective statistics that 99% of Christian fundamentalists are very weird people.
    Cargill and McLeroy seem to confirm those statistics.

  • Miguel

    Liberal (adj) 1. Characterized by or inclining toward opinions or policies favoring progress or reform… 2. Not intolerant or prejudiced; broad-minded… 3. Characterized by gererosity in giving; bountiful.. 4 Not literal or strict… 5. Suitable for persons of broad cultural interests…

    I can go on. You get the idea. And the more I read on the subject, the prouder I am of being a card-carrying Liberal. Particularly attractive is 2. Not intolerant or prejudiced; broad-minded.. I like this approach to History better than the other more intolerant, prejudiced, and narrow-minded one. You can’t have it both ways, can you?

  • VA Mom

    Christians forget that though our Founding Fathers were Christian men, they knew the dangers of going too far with combining religion and government. I’ve seen too much lately where Christians are confusing that the Fathers actually wanted, and there is too much talk of dissolving the separation of church and state. That is a slippery slope to failure:

    James Madison: We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without rather than with the aid of government.

    George Washington “The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian Religion.”

    Thomas Paine: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

    Thomas Jefferson: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

  • Lisa

    What can be done? There must be something we can do to change this. I would like to have had a vote on this.

  • Elvis

    I think that parents and Boards of Education across the country should refuse to purchase such textbooks. As the editor of several social studies and history textbooks, I find this development appalling and frightening.

    As with the prayer in school issue, parents who want that kind of selective teaching should send their children to schools that teach religion and allow prayer. The public school is not the place for exclusion and repression. Exclusion and repression of history does not keep children from learning the facts as adults. Then, the repressive parent becomes a liar in the eyes of their child. Who wants that?

  • Sally Seaver Shabaka

    I guess I thought that the PBS audience would be familiar with the results of academic sociology research finding that the professors of 4-year degree-granting universities and colleges are almost all politically liberal/left-leaning with respect to a political spectrum from far-left liberal to far-right conservative. This finding has been widely disseminated.

    The statistics I talked about in my first post came from an article in the Los Angeles Times from the 1980s, but I don’t remember the exact percentage, whether it was 90%, 93% or 98%; the statistic referred to professors who vote for Democratic candidates. So I have been challenged to provide some reference data.

    I refer Readers to an article in Inside Higher Ed, “The Liberal (and Moderating) Professoriate” October 8, 2007 [http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/08/politics]. It reports on a national study released at a Harvard University symposium.

    I confess Readers that the current research study reports different numbers (for history-related professors, 83.7% voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate, not 90%), but the problem I referred to still remains. Consider this quote from the article: “Lawrence H. Summers, the economist and former Harvard president, did his own cut on their numbers and said that his analysis pointed to a problematic liberal domination at elite research universities. Several other speakers also said that they were troubled by the extent of ideological lopsidedness that they saw in the analysis,…” Later in the article, “Louis Menand, a professor of English at Harvard, said he was surprised and worried by the extent of ideological homogeneity and he focused on how graduate education may encourage and be hurt by this trend.”

    I can appreciate that many Readers are not in touch with the way that academic knowledge develops. There is a natural deference to “the experts.” However, the participants of the Oct 8 symposium understand the development of knowledge and they are concerned.

    The Texas School Board is not necessarily in touch with the development of academic knowledge, but they see the product of the process in the textbooks they review, and they are concerned too.

  • iham

    I would like to know where is the court injunction barring the printing of these ‘approved’ books.
    Primarily I would like to know where is the ICC trial for Don McLeroy and the rest of THE NINE for Crimes Against Humanity.   As the revisions fit to the letter the definition of Crimes Against Humanity.
    Ahh, alas this being in fact the DEMOCRACY that was established in which SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE is CONSTITUTIONAL LAW;  this ties back into the 1st court injunction sentence; where on earth is the criminal trial for THE NINE for their violations of Constitutional Laws!!!!!!!
    now that this has been passed by the board, why has it dropped out of the press??????

  • Jo

    I would like to see schools teach students, our history by the people not by what “They” want us to think what happen in history. History is about ALL of us not just one group of people. We as a whole group should write what REALLY happened. Then our young people are not mess lead.

  • Jo

    We are founded by people who believe in prayer. Our generation and the next, what it looks like; believe that everyone is “OK” Just pray Jesus in your heart and you’ll be ok. Which if they actually read their Bible they will see this is a lie that religious people like to tell people. People had stop reading and study their Bible period. So it not surprise that this generation don’t care of prayer. They don’t feel or see the need for God and to better understand something that big then them. I believe that people have the right to say what they feel but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. God’s ideas are what significant and if they don’t fix your ideas then I don’t know what to say to you. Yes, it is important to be open-minded but does that really mean allow different objective that fit only what you fancy? It looks to me that people just want the easy way; even if it’s totally overlook our history and the Bible. It outrageous to me how people will do everything else with their life’s but read or pray. Something so simple and helpful for their soul. Have we become those people in the Bible were they had forgotten the books of the Bible? I’m afraid that’s what it looks like.

    I’m just say’n

  • Donna

    Wish David Barton from Wallbuilders could be on that board! It would be nice just to read the facts of what really happened.

  • Sam

    If by facts you mean ahistorical made up crap Donna, then you’re absolutely correct. Barton is a charlatan of the worst sort and given how many supposedly “historical” things he has made up out of whole cloth, he shouldn’t be considered anything more than a (potentially pathological) liar for Christ.