Question: Of the following Social Studies textbook entries regarding the Texas revolution of 1835, which, if any, are free of factual error and comply with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards?
a) "In Mexico's northern territory of Texas, discontent grew. Settlers from the United States and other countries began an independence movement. In 1835, American settlers and some Mexicans in Texas revolted. The next year they set up an independent republic."
— from Prentice-Hall's World History: Connections to Today. Text includes on-line resources for further investigation.
b) "In the 1820s, Mexico encouraged American citizens to move to the Mexican territory of Texas to help populate the country. Thousands of English-speaking colonists, or Anglos, did. In return for inexpensive land, they pledged to follow the laws of Mexico. As the Anglo population grew, though, tensions developed between the colonists and Mexico over several issues, including slavery and religion. As a result, many Texas colonists wanted greater self-government."
— from McDougal Littell's World History: Patterns of Interaction, Texas Edition. Includes an atlas from Rand McNally.
c) "When General Antonio López de Santa Anna declared himself dictator of Mexico and stripped Texas of its rights of self-government, Texans became united in the cause of independence. In November 1835, these independence-minded settlers clashed with Mexican troops, beginning the Texas War for Independence.
"`Under siege in the Alamo`, the courageous Texans inflicted heavy casualties, but the Mexicans eventually overwhelmed the Alamo and killed most of those inside."
— from Prentice Hall's America: Pathways to the Present, Texas Edition.
d) "In 1835, some Texans revolted against Mexico's central government. The insurrectionists claimed they were fighting for freedom against a long experience of oppression. Actually, Mexican rule had not been harsh; the worst that can be said was that it was inefficient, inconsistent, and sometimes corrupt. Furthermore, the Texans' devotion to "liberty" did not prevent them from defending slavery against Mexico's attempt to abolish it. Texans had done pretty much what they pleased, despite laws to the contrary and angry rumblings from south of the Rio Grande."
— from Longman's America: Past and Present, AP Edition.
e) "In further efforts to control Texas colonists, especially Anglo Americans, Mexican officials passed the Law of April 6, 1830. It outlawed immigration from the United States to Texas ... As a result, settlers from the United States would no longer be allowed to colonize any Mexican border state — including Texas. Slaves could no longer be brought into Mexico to work the fields for Anglo American colonists. ... The law alarmed Anglo Texans. Its ban on bringing slaves into Mexico would hurt their ability to develop the cotton industry. Texans felt that the new taxes would hurt Texas's economy. They were also upset that their friends and relatives in the United States would not be able to join them. They felt that they had been wronged by the Mexican government."
— from McDougal Littell's Celebrating Texas: Honoring the Past, Building the Future.
Answer: a, b, c, d, and e are all correct — or all wrong, depending on who you are. According to the traditional version of history — or wealthy conservative and school voucher cheerleader James Leininger and his Texas Public Policy Foundation (just one of a gaggle of conservative organizations whose right-wing hands steer the textbook approval process this year) — only b and c are worthy of being used in the Lone Star state's classrooms. If you're a revisionist, d and e come closer to the truth. If you're simple, the best pick is a. And if you're a public school student, don't even worry about choosing — some folks in Austin are doing it for you.
Texas, with its mass purchasing of textbooks at the state level, is behind only California in sheer number of students (California has 6.1 million students, Texas 4.1 million). Along with Florida, these three states buy textbooks for their public schools in such large numbers and hold so much sway over publishers that what is allowed in their classrooms is usually what makes it into other states' schools. With more than 150 Social Studies textbooks being reviewed this year in Texas, and considering the political leanings in our state, there's a lot of conservatism being exported.
Here's the way the review process would ideally work, according to a 1995 law that limited the editorial power of the State Board of Education in Texas: Publishers, responding to the state's call for subject-specific textbooks, send in draft copies for review by the Board of Education and other supposedly objective groups. After a series of public hearings, the board submits a list of changes that will correct errors of fact and bring the books in line with the TEKS standards. If the changes are made, the text is approved by the board, and districts across the state can choose from any of the okayed books.
But here's what really happens: Publishers, anxious to get their hands on some of the $345 million the Texas legislature allocated for social studies texts this year, submit books to a politically divided board (10 Republicans, five Democrats) that relies on like-minded, conservative groups (like San Antonio's own Leininger and the TPPF) to find errors of "fact." To these organizations, facts are not always cut and dry: If a textbook doesn't lean far enough to the right, it is considered an error of fact.
Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, one of eight conservative groups in the Working Partnership for Textbook Reviews, says the scope of her review is mandated by the state's Education Code, which in part reads that the SBOE should adopt textbooks that promote the free enterprise system and that give students "an appreciation for the basic democratic values of our state and national heritage."
"Fact also means that kids get a full picture," the Austin mother of a public school student said, "free of bias and an attempt to persuade." She cites the example of one text's approach to Communism, which states that property is owned by the state for the good of the people. Venable said while that may be true in theory, Communism is a failed system and should be noted as such in the text. "Heaven forbid that a person should have some viewpoints that don't agree with liberals," she added. If people don't get involved at the state level, "what do you have to choose from at the local level?"
Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, represents parents and citizens looking for more equity in the approval process.
"For too many years, a vocal group of conservative, right-wing Christians has hijacked the process," Smoot says, a fact proven by last year's SBOE rejection of a science textbook for being anti-free enterprise. After the textbook committee of the Texas Education Agency had given the book preliminary approval, the Board rejected it when the TPPF criticized sections on global warming that implicated the United States in environmental destruction. "If they can just decide that global warming is not a fact, no longer is there any reason in the process," says Smoot.
In response to right-wing censorship, TFN has started the "I Object" campaign, a grassroots effort to inject the mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties into the approval process. Mostly, though, Smoot doesn't believe the conservative coalition is looking out for students' best interests. "If Citizens for a Sound Economy had anything to do with a sound economy, they'd be working on Enron and WorldCom," she said.
One of the SBOE's Republican members, Houston resident Chase Untermeyer, said that controversy is endemic to textbook selection. His board, which he said is short on staff and funding, "must depend on outside groups who we trust" to review textbooks. "Right now, the majority of the Board are Republican and conservative and do trust `Citizens for a Sound Economy`. Somebody has got to be influential with the board. That would be just as true if we were a liberal, Democratic organization. In the end, it's a political process."
And in the end, that's the only answer that matters.
UPCOMING DATES IN THE TEXTBOOK APPROVAL PROCESS:
Aug. 23: SBOE public hearing on textbooks (register to testify or submit written testimony by Aug. 16)
Sept. 6: Final date to submit alleged factual errors in textbooks.
Sept. 11: SBOE public hearing on textbooks (register to testify or submit written testimony by Sept. 6)
Nov. 14: SBOE vote on adopting new Social Studies text.
Register on-line at www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/input/register.html or call Robert Leos or Linda Janney at (512) 463-9601.
TO SEE THE BOOKS FOR YOURSELF:
Education Service Center Region 20
1314 Hines Ave.