The Texas Board of Education has rejected a proposal to enlist a group of university professors to fact-check the content of Texas school textbooks, despite having made gross errors in the past. The vote was a narrow 8-7, with nearly all of the board’s Republican members voting against the measure, and thereby degrading the quality of education of Texas schoolchildren.
Conservatives in Texas have consistently been pushing their right-wing agenda into the state’s textbooks, with everything from minimizing the brutality of slavery to climate change denial. This recently drew national attention when a Houston mother posted a video online showing how her child’s textbook referred to slaves as “immigrants” and “workers,” whitewashing the importance of slavery from the Civil War, and downplaying the threat posed by the Ku Klux Klan. The publisher, McGraw-Hill, admitted responsibility for the error and made a “correction”.
Many people in Texas don’t want to see such a ridiculous mistake made again, and so the Board of Education’s vice chairman, Thomas Ratliff (R), proposed to have a group of experts drawn “solely from Texas institutions of higher education” to serve as fact-checkers. “Why wouldn’t we reach out to them and say let’s make sure these books are as factually accurate as possible?”
The answer is obvious: the other Republicans on the board want to continue to use local children’s education as a tool to promote their political and religious agenda. In the past, Texas has tried to make evolution appear controversial. Don McLeroy, the previous board chairman appointed by Governor Rick Perry, once said that “evolution is hooey,” and told the Washington Monthly, “The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.” The board has also been criticized for its take on climate change.
One Republican board member opposing the fact-checkers said, “I don’t want to send a message that … we feel the college people are more important.” But the judgment of experts is more important when it comes to verifying scientific and historical facts. This is the same kind of false modesty as when Republicans say “I’m not a scientist” in order to justify ignoring scientific conclusions.
The Republicans on the board defend themselves by pointing out that there is already a public review panel for school textbooks, but this is not composed of university experts and is only supposed to check that certain curriculum guidelines have been met.
Due to its population, Texas has traditionally exerted a strong influence on textbook publishers nationwide. However, this power appears to be dwindling. Meanwhile, Republicans have proven, once again, that they are the party of ignorance.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.