In Texas, there is a debate over textbooks. Last November, the Republican-controlled State Board of Education voted to adopt new textbooks that will hit classrooms for more than 5 million public school students this fall.
The textbooks will contain information that is challenged by academics and that critics say is making education in Texas far too political. It all started back in 2010, when the board voted to adopt new standards for textbook manufacturers to follow.
The new standards are causing controversy in part because they require that Moses be cited as a major influencer of America's founding documents. Marisa Perez and four other Democrats on Texas' 15-member State Board of Education voted against adopting the new textbooks.
A Democrat who voted against the changes
"At the 11th hour, we were literally handed a stack of changes that were going to be recommended to the textbooks," Perez recalled. "If we had gone by the timeline, we had probably about three days to review hundreds of pages of proposed factual errors that were being requested of publishers to change in the books."
"We are a very diverse culture and we need to embrace that. Not everybody is Christian. Not everybody leans politically in one way or the other."Marisa Perez, Democratic school board member
One of the proposed "factual errors" involved defining America as a "constitutional republic" instead of a democracy.
"We had to decide whether or not that was an ideological perspective, as opposed to fact-based error," Perez explained. "There's a lot of communication that just needed to take place that we just didn't have time for. And so I could not put my name behind something when we didn't have a fully vetted process to fully vet these textbooks."
But many of her colleagues did say yes to the changes. Among the 10 Republican members of the board who voted in favor of the changes was vice-chair Thomas Ratliff.
A Republican who voted for the changes
"We have to approve books that cover the standards that we adopt, and they have to be free of factual errors and then be constructed to an industry standard level," Ratliff said. "They're looked at by teams of people - both classroom teachers [and] college professors, political types, policy types, education types. So we've got a real broad spectrum."
Ratliff says he wasn’t a fan of proposed changes to the textbooks that would have called scientific consensus about climate change into question. Those changes were actually avoided because - after an uproar - textbook manufacturers removed the controversial passages at the last minute.
But Ratliff says he doesn’t regret his vote in favor of the textbook changes in general.
"I trust science teachers and I trust parents and school board members and principals to cover material in a way that is relevant and accurate."Thomas Ratliff
“You know, the days of students going to a school and on day one, the teacher opening the book and saying, 'OK students, day one, page one, here we go,' and they start going through the book cover to cover, those days are long gone," he said. "And so I trust science teachers and I trust parents and school board members and principals to cover material in a way that is relevant and accurate. And so I'm not too concerned about a generation of kids growing up and thinking that mankind has nothing to do with climate change."
Why one mom is concerned about the changes
So how do parents and students feel about all this? We've come to the Edgar Allan Poe Elementary School in Houston to meet with one woman, Chrysi Polydoros, whose two daughters, Peggy and Mary, went to this school.
"First of all, I didn't realize there were any changes. As a parent, I hadn't heard anything about it until our PTO president sent out an email that there was a conversation going on around textbooks," Polydoros said. "I started to do a little research and saw that every 10 years or so, we redo textbooks."
But when she learned of the proposed changes, she became concerned.
"I was a little disappointed to hear that some decisions were being made more on a Republican and Democratic basis, whereas I want my kids to just learn the facts, and I think textbooks shouldn't be interpreted by the publishers. I think that the facts should be presented to the students. Those discussions should be interpreted in class and as individuals."
Polydoros describes herself as religious person, but wanted to know what documentation or evidence was being presented as proof that Moses informed America's founding documents.
"I think that if there is a question - whether it's evolution, creationism, whatever - that both sides should be presented."Alice Linahan, mother
Another mom supports the changes
Alice Linahan, a mother who lives in the Dallas area, is worried the Board of Education doesn’t have enough power. Because of a state law passed in 2011, school districts can ignore the board’s recommendations and purchase the books they want, as long as they continue to teach to the state’s standards.
As for the coming changes to textbooks, Linahan says she’s fine with them.
"In Texas, we have a review process in place to go through the textbooks," she explained. "It's an extensive process. Sometimes it's ugly. People from both sides of the political spectrum get into it. But we actually have a review process, and as a mom, I feel good about that process. The standards that were put in place are supposed to drive what is taught in the classroom, meaning we want to make kids understand and know certain facts."
But what about the fact Moses didn't have anything to do with the writing of the American Constitution?
"If there's question if it is seen as not a fact to some, both sides need to be presented," Linahan responded. "I guess everything is relative, isn't it, to what a person's belief system is. And that's why there is that review process in place for those standards. ... I think that if there is a question - whether it's evolution, creationism, whatever - that both sides should be presented."
A student who wants textbooks to be factual
I asked Peggy and Mary Polydoros, the two children of Chrysi Polydoros, what they think of textbooks.
"I want my kids to just learn the facts, and I think textbooks shouldn't be interpreted by the publishers."Chrysi Polydoros, mother
"I think I do take the textbooks as something factual," Peggy said. "I know that when I use them in class, I'm really looking for my information that I'm going to be using. But my school is now a lot more online, we have our own laptops now, so I haven't had to use the textbooks as much this year. So I think that there is a truth to the fact that we do get a lot of our information elsewhere, but I think textbooks should also be, of course, factual."
So what does all this mean if you live outside of Texas? Because Texas has so many students and orders so many textbooks, some other states end up using the textbooks that the Texas Board of Education approves.
And board member Marissa Perez says, the whole controversy has not helped the Texas brand.
"I have to tell you, I travel sometimes out of state for conferences and I'll mention that I'm on the State Board of Education and you get the look - almost the look of disgust sometimes," Perez said. "And it's really hard because the board is definitely a different board than it was back in 2010 when the standards were set for this particular topic - for social studies. We still have a lot to work through, but I think that what we need to do is just remember that the focus is the students. Inclusion is important. We are a very diverse culture and we need to embrace that. Not everybody is Christian. Not everybody leans politically in one way or the other. And we need to be responsible for all of our - not only students, but all of the citizens in Texas and across the nation."
Her Republican colleague Thomas Ratliff will agree with her on one thing: the whole process has gotten too political. He says the board’s number one priority should be returning its focus to education, and not politics.
This segment aired on June 25, 2015.
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