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Review Finds 'Distortions,' Biases in Texas Textbooks

New social studies textbooks under consideration by the Texas board of education include "serious distortions of history and contemporary issues," according to a watchdog group's recent review. Among other problems cited by the group are that the textbooks exaggerate religion's role in the founding of the country, include negative stereotypes about Islam, gloss over civil rights efforts for gay and lesbian citizens, and are critical of affirmative action.

Texas approved new standards four years ago and will soon adopt new textbooks for the first time since 2002. (The Lone Star State is one of four that never adopted the Common Core State Standards.)

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, a left-learning organization that advocates for separation of church and state, partnered with 10 university professors and doctoral students in history to review 43 textbooks that the board will consider approving in November. 

The detailed reports are available online. But here are some of the highlights:

  • "Moses was a lawgiver and a great leader," a Pearson social studies text states. "Like the founders of the United States, he helped establish a legal system to govern his people. The Ten Commandments have been a guide and basis for many legal and moral systems throughout the world." It goes on to say that the framers of the Constitution were influenced by the Ten Commandments. The TFN reviewers write that "the passage gives an exaggerated impression to students about the influence of and relationship between Moses and the Founders."
  • "The spread of international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism which opposes Western political and cultural influences and Western ideology," a Worldview Software text states. The reviewers call this "inaccurate and misleading."
  • A Discovery Education book says that "Hindus are strict vegetarians." TFN notes that this is a stereotype.
  • The Pearson book is "almost uniformly celebratory" in its description of the free-market enterprise, failing to mention any disadvantages of such a system, the reviewers write.
  • The following cartoon, which the reviewers write is "biased—verging on offensive," appears in the Pearson book:

affirmative action pic.JPG(Note the small text states, "Some people have called affirmative action 'reverse descrimination.'")

Pearson told the Texas Tribune that it "works diligently to ensure its instructional materials are compliant with Texas standards," and that it will "review the TFN report." 

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund places the blame for such biases on the standards themselves. It notes that a 2011 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-learning think tank, gave the Texas standards a grade D, saying they offer "misrepresentations at every turn."

The TFN report is not all bad news for publishers—many of the textbooks are found to portray at least some topics in a balanced fashion.

"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," TFN president Kathy Miller said in a press release. "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."

David Bradley, a Republican who has been on the Texas board of education for 18 years, told the Texas Tribune the report is not likely to make waves among members. "Being that the Texas Freedom Network actively recruits liberal opponents to run against the board, I don't think they are going to make much headway with the board's majority," he said. "If Texas Freedom Network is unhappy with [the textbooks], then I am probably going to feel pretty good about them."

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