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Religious Freedom
Civil Liberties
Public Schools

Strengthening Public Schools

Fighting Textbook Censorship

In almost an annual ritual, the State Board of Education (SBOE) engages in sharp debates over efforts by some members to censor public school textbooks. These debates have covered topics such as sex education, the theory of evolution, pollution and climate change, and even slavery and civil rights. The state board is currently revising all of the state's curriculum standards. Publishers create their textbooks based on those standards. As a result, censors on the board have the opportunity to further influence the information that more than 4.5 million Texas schoolchildren learn.

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2004: New Health Textbooks Fail to Protect Texas Kids

In a highly contentious 1994 debate, state board members and other critics demanded that publishers make hundreds of changes to health textbook content. For example, they insisted that publishers delete “embarrassing” illustrations of breast and testicular self-exams for cancer detection. The SBOE and other critics also wanted information on birth control and the prevention of STDs stripped from the books. One publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston refused to make the changes and withdrew its textbooks from consideration.

In 2004, however, Holt and two other publishers offered four new high school textbooks that lacked any information on family planning and disease prevention except through abstinence. The Texas Freedom Network and its more than 60 partners in the Protect Our Kids campaign called on publishers to revise their textbooks to include that critical information, which was required by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards. Thousands of Texans responded to the campaign by returning postcards and calling and testifying before the SBOE. In fact, a Texas Poll showed that 90 percent of Texans supported teaching students with information about abstinence, birth control and the prevention of STDs. Still, the SBOE voted to approve the flawed textbooks even though publishers added information on contraceptive methods only to their Teacher’s Editions.

2003: Texas Freedom Network Beats Back Far-Right Threats to Biology Textbooks 

Biology press conferenceBiology textbooks came under fire in 2003 when the Discovery Institute and other groups tried to undermine the books’ coverage of the theory of evolution. Those groups pushed to include information about “Intelligent Design” based on religious beliefs as an alternative theory to evolution. To fight back, the Texas Freedom Network launched the “Stand Up for Science” campaign. A coalition of business leaders, clergy, scientists, teachers and parents fought attempts to weaken the biology textbooks. The campaign included a petition drive and statement signed by more than 100 clergy opposing attempts to weaken discussions of evolution. The SBOE’s final vote was 11-4 in favor of adopting the biology books with discussions of evolution intact.

2002: Publishers Buckled to Far-Right Pressure on Social Studies Textbooks

Censors turned the screws on publishers during the 2002 adoption of social studies textbooks and publishers buckled. The publishers accepted many changes demanded by censors. For example, they switched the date of the Ice Age from “millions of years ago” to “in the distant past” after two Christian conservative activists protested that the original text conflicted with Biblical timelines. Publishers also bowed censorship demands on Islam, science and slavery. To counter this pressure, the Texas Freedom Network launched the “I Object” campaign. The campaign was the first-ever coordinated effort to involve mainstream Texans in the textbook review process to counter censorship proponents. More than 1,000 supporters weighed in, testifying at public hearings and sending anti-censorship postcards to the SBOE. Even so, the state board voted to adopt all textbooks with many of the changes demanded by censors.

2001: Far-Right Groups Targeted Environmental Science

In 2001 the SBOE moved to reject two environmental science textbooks for high school, citing “factual errors” as identified by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Among the objections made by TPPF were discussions of the causes of global warming and the advantages of the Endangered Species Act. TPPF also objected to positive references to Native American culture and the consequences and causes of deforestation. One publisher, J.M. LeBel, made changes to its textbook in order to get it approved by the State Board of Education. The other publisher, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, did not. The State Board ultimately rejected the Jones and Bartlett textbook.

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TFN Resources

Textbook Censorship in Texas: A Timeline

A Who's Who in Textbook Censorship

Help TFN Stand Up for Science

Extremism on the Texas State Board of Education