Mainstream Texans Form First-Ever Campaign Against Textbook Censorship; Parents Tell Censors, Publishers “I Object!”
July 9, 2002
Austin, TX Hailing it as the first-ever campaign against textbook censorship, parents, teachers and community leaders gathered in Austin today to kick off their statewide “I Object!” to Textbook Censorship campaign.
Texas textbook reviews have garnered national attention over the years for generating firestorms of controversy and accusations that far-right groups censor textbooks to advance their own religious and political beliefs.
Now, a group of Texans says that’s going to change with a campaign to increase grassroots involvement and bring more diverse perspectives in to the textbook review process.
“For too many years now, a small but vocal group of people has controlled the textbook adoption process in Texas,” said Samantha Smoot, Executive Director of the Texas Freedom Network, which watchdogs the Religious Right and organized the grassroots campaign.
“We’re here today because mainstream Texans have had enough. Today, we’re launching a campaign that will let thousands of fair-minded parents, community activists and religious leaders say, ‘I Object!’ to textbook censorship,” said Smoot.
Austin parent Phil Durst asserted that these censorship efforts step outside the bounds of state law. “The law makes it clear that the input of political groups should be limited to subject-matter and factual errors,” said Durst. “Despite this, the Religious Right continues to use its political clout to make textbooks more religious and conservative, as was recently done with science books.”
“My children assure me that their textbooks can be made long and boring enough without the Religious Right's dogma on evolution, gender roles and their view of Christianity,” said Durst.
Smoot compared textbook censorship in Texas to that seen in other countries, saying the Texas situation had become so extreme that a major education and outreach campaign like “I Object!” had to be initiated. “Palestinian children learn from textbooks that deny the existence of Israel,” said Smoot. “Afghan children are taught math by counting anti-tank mines, and read word problems that describe jihad. Many Chinese textbooks censor information about the Tiananmen Square massacre.”
Smoot stressed that, “In the land of the free, there should be no place for politically-motivated textbook censorship. But in Texas, a small group of people is bound and determined that children should have access to only some information.”
The last time the state reviewed social studies textbooks in 1996, religious social conservatives tried to censor history texts for what they called an “overkill of emphasis on cruelty to slaves.” Testimony on file at the Texas Education Agency also shows they demanded that the “American family” discussion be accompanied by a picture of a Caucasian family instead of an African-American family, they objected to the number of pictures of minorities, and also worked to eliminate discussions of social issues like homelessness, drug use prevention, endangered animals and the environment. Witnesses also raised issues related to religion in the last review, arguing, for example, that the age of the earth should be determined by biblical genealogy rather than fossil evidence.
Just last fall, Religious Right groups successfully convinced a majority of Board members to make wholesale changes to and even reject textbooks they called anti-Christian and anti-free enterprise.
Smoot said the same players are involved this year as in years past. “This year, the same few, angry faces are back, determined to decide what Texas kids are taught, based on their own personal beliefs and political ideology,” said Smoot.
Eight far-right groups including the Texas Eagle Forum, Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy and controversial textbook reviewers Mel and Norma Gabler - have banded together, calling themselves the “Working Partnership for Textbook Reviews.” A ninth group, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, has launched its own review of the books.
“It’s hard to underestimate the importance of the Texas review process,” said Smoot. “As the nation’s second largest consumer of textbooks, Texas has a national impact, with books that are approved—or censored—here making their way into classrooms across the country.”