In an independent review of social studies textbooks under consideration for use in Texas public school classrooms, university scholars found dozens of examples of inaccurate and distorted facts and misinformation on topics ranging from world history to the origin of American democracy to affirmative action to the free enterprise system. The review was sponsored by the Austin-based watchdog group the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.
The group of 10 reviewers, which included professors from the University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University and the University of Mary Washington, critiqued 43 textbooks that would be used to teach history, geography, and government. The textbooks are based on the controversial curriculum passed by the State Board of Education in 2010, which the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute called “politicized distortions of history” in 2011 and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board found the standards contained personal and political bias of SBOE members.
The TFN report points out that the publishers were caught between a rock and hard place since they were required to write textbooks based on seriously flawed standards.
“In all fairness, it’s clear that the publishers struggled with these flawed standards and still managed to do a good job in some areas," said TFN executive director Kathy Miller. “On the other hand, a number of textbook passages essentially reflect the ideological beliefs of politicians on the state board rather than sound scholarship and factual history.”
Professors found errors and misleading narratives that exaggerate the role Moses and Judeo-Christian influence on the origin of American democracy and Western political structures. Another example: "...two government textbooks include misleading information that undermines the Constitutional concept of the separation of church and state and biased statements that inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims negatively.”
One text reads: “The spread of international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism which opposes Western political and cultural influences and Western ideology.”
Reviewers also found too strong a positive narrative on the free enterprise system, writing that “the free enterprise system is almost uniformly celebratory” and calls one textbook’s discussion of Capitalism “unbalanced and asymmetrical because the text provides little mention of the possible limits and disadvantages of a free enterprise and laissez fair system.”
The report goes on to cite examples of outdated, and borderline offensive, racial and anthropological terminology when discussing mid-1800s African civilization, and likens beneficiaries of affirmative action (so, that’s minority students and women) to aliens, via cartoons in one of the government textbooks:
“The SBOE and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars,” said Dr. Emile Lester, associate professor in political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington.
The textbooks are up for a vote in November, and the SBOE is taking public input on the proposed texts on Tuesday, Sept. 16.