Rewriting Texas Texts

Texas conservatives are aiming to revise their state’s schoolbooks — and teach a lesson to publishers nationwide.

Image: Christoph Hitz


You can still teach Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in Texas public schools, but if you’re a teacher trying to warn students about the dangers of pollution and global warming, take care. After decades of focusing on hot-button topics like evolution, right-wing activists in the state are taking on a broader set of issues-challenging curriculum materials that warn of an “environmental crisis” or promote such “un-American” concepts as restricting urban sprawl to protect wildlife. Over the past year, conservative groups have challenged dozens of science textbooks, winning the rejection of one widely used text and forcing revisions to several others. This year, with the state board of education slated to consider more than 100 social-science texts, several publishers have invited conservative groups to review their texts in advance — a step that critics say could have ramifications well beyond the Lone Star State. “If Texas continues to make these sorts of decisions, we’re going to see the publishers stop printing these sorts of books,” says Emily Heath of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, a California-based nonprofit.

With an annual budget for textbooks of $570 million, Texas “is clearly one of the most dominant states in setting textbook adoption standards,” says Stephen Driesler, executive director of the American Association of Publishers’ school division. “Along with California, it has the biggest in?uence on what gets published.”

At the center of the latest controversy was Massachusetts-based publisher Jones and Bartlett, whose title Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future came under fire from conservative groups such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank chaired by Wendy Gramm, the wife of Republican Senator Phil Gramm. Among other things, conservatives objected to a passage according to which “too many people reproducing too quickly” could endanger the planet’s health. In November, the Republican-dominated state board of education voted to reject the textbook; publishers withdrew a dozen other books that had been challenged, and revised several more. In one text, a passage on the lifestyles of Native Americans and European settlers was modified after conservatives criticized its “anti-settler” tone. In another, a reference to carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as a “pollutant” was removed.

As the state board begins another selection round-151 social-science texts are due to be reviewed by November — observers expect controversy over topics such as civil rights and the role of women. (Six years ago, when social-science texts were last reviewed, conservatives objected to books that depicted women as professionals, but not as homemakers.) Neither publishers nor conservative activists would comment on the details of this year’s textbook review; Chris Patterson, education research director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, says the organization was asked by publishers, including industry giants such as Harcourt and Holt, Rinehart and Winston, to submit comments and agreed to do so, “so that they can have first crack to address some of our concerns.”

One company that won’t be asking the foundation for input is Jones and Bartlett, the publisher of Environmental Science. Associate managing editor Dean DeChambeau says Jones and Bartlett won’t bother to submit science texts in Texas anymore. “There just isn’t the time and resources for us to go through such a process,” he says.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate