Texas Textbooks Under Scrutiny Over Teachings Regarding Christian Heritage, Social Programs

Defenders of the new textbooks dismissed the criticism as sour grapes. (Getty)
Defenders of the new textbooks dismissed the criticism as sour grapes. (Getty)

Texas students may soon be reading in their history textbooks that the American system of democracy was inspired by Moses, segregated schools weren’t all that bad and taxes imposed for programs like Social Security haven’t measurably improved society.

Those passages are among dozens of biased, misleading or inaccurate lessons identified on Wednesday by a panel of scholars commissioned by a liberal advocacy group to analyze dozens of new history, geography and civics textbooks up for review by the state Board of Education.

Defenders of the new textbooks dismissed the criticism as sour grapes. But the controversy in Texas also hints at rising tensions across the U.S. over academic standards, as conservatives have mobilized aggressively to shape what students learn in science, social studies and beyond.

History has been a particularly fraught subject because it’s so intimately tied to our conception of our nation — “it quite literally defines who we are,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education history at New York University.

The Texas textbooks, most of them from major publishing houses, were written to align with instructional standards that the Board of Education approved back in 2010 — with the explicit intention of tugging social studies teaching to the right. The standards require teachers to emphasize America’s Christian heritage, praise the superiority of the unfettered free market and introduce students to conservative icons such as Phyllis Schlafly and the Heritage Foundation.

David Bradley, a board member who helped write the standards, said the textbooks are supposed to reflect the standards, and the standards are set by the politicians who win election to the board. At least in Texas, he said, conservatives usually win – especially if they run on pledges to bring conservative values back to public schools.

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