Friday, December 5, 2014
Given the size of its student population, the Texas Board of Education's decisions about which books to approve and purchase have an enormous effect on the overall market. The Board's deliberations seem to get more and more political each year. Last year, I posted on the Board's ongoing saga to select biology books that included creationism, and I referenced its 2010 decision to adopt history and economics books with a decidedly conservative slant. Late last month, they were at it again.
According to local reports, the state has approved new history textbooks with even more revisionist history in them. The Texas Freedom Network indicates, for instance, that "the new textbooks also include passages that suggest Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and that the roots of democracy can be found in the Old Testament. Scholars from across the country have said such claims are inaccurate and mislead students about the historical record."
The Supreme Court has recognized that the state and its schools have the right to promote and inculcate values and good citizenship, but in Island Tree School District Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982) and West Virginia v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the Court emphasized the authority has its limits. The state cannot forcefully indoctrinate students or intentionally subvert access to information. Deciding which side of the line educators' actions falls on can be difficult, but in Loewen v. Turnipseed, 488 F. Supp. 1138 (N.D. Miss. 1980), the district court confronted a situation analogous to the ongoing saga in Texas.
In Loewen, the state had refused to include Mississippi: Conflict and Change--which told the less than laudatory history of discrimination in Mississippi--on the state's list of approved history books, but had included another book that, according to plaintiffs, was a "symbol of resistance to integration in Mississippi schools." The court did not strike the latter book, but did find the exclusion of the first was unconstitutional based on the aforementioned cases. Key in Loewen were procedural anomalies and problematic comments on the record by the state in regard to Mississippi: Conflict and Change.