March 29, 2010

In Texas, Newt Gingrich is history


In this post at The Daily Beast, education expert Diane Ravitch reports on the victory of Texas conservatives in the battle over textbooks in the public school: “The conservative majority of the Texas State Board of Education adopted new guidelines for social-studies textbooks that reflect their conservative political views. The new guidelines will emphasize the Christian beliefs of the Founding Fathers. Students in Texas will be expected to learn about the emergence of the conservative movement in the 1980s and 1990s. The new textbooks are supposed to promote patriotism and respect for the ‘free-enterprise system.'”

Ravitch goes on to explain how this happened:

For many years, the Texas state board has been telling textbook publishers what should appear in the books that the state will buy for its students. Nineteen other states decide which textbooks will qualify for “adoption” in their public schools. Books that are not approved by the state board cannot be purchased with state funds. This is a very powerful lever to bring about revisions in the textbooks. The two most consequential of the so-called adoption states are Texas and California, because they have the largest number of students and therefore the most clout with publishers. When Texas or California speak, publishers listen and change their textbooks to comply.

The elected school board in Texas pressures publishers toward a conservative agenda, while California, “insists that the textbooks it buys for grades K-8 comply with its ‘social content’ guidelines, which require positive representations of all groups in society.”

It’s enough to give publishers whiplash, but the big ones keep up with the demands. These are huge markets. In Texas, according to Ravitch, the board, “buys textbooks en masse for all grades, so it has a lot of influence on high-school textbooks.”

Ravitch shows the absurdities of this politicized textbook adoption process and advocates a cure. States should de-couple politics from scholarship by changing the ambit of the state school board, and abolish the adoption system altogether. She writes, “The job of the state board should be to evaluate which classroom materials seem to be most effective in helping students learn the subject and to make that information public.” And she goes on to suggest that, “teachers and districts should be free to choose whatever books or textbooks or other learning materials they thought best to reach the state’s academic standards.”

Seems like a good start toward educating young people instead of young ideologues.

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.