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State Education Officials Reignite Texas Textbook Battle

Ryan Stanton, Flickr
The State Board of Education will hear public comment on the overhaul of textbooks until Sept. 30.

The State Board of Education got an earful today about proposed changes to Texas students’ social studies textbooks. The Board is considering the adoption of new textbooks, despite claims from some that they contain misleading or biased statements and even misrepresentations of history.

Faculty from Texas universities who found instances of inaccuracy and misrepresentation in the textbooks testified all day before the board, along with and members of religious groups who alleged their faiths were being misrepresented. It's the social studies books' first overhaul since 2010.

Jacqueline Jones chairs the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin, but said she was speaking only for herself when she testified at today’s meeting.

“The materials presented here distort history in several ways,” Jones said. “The text is replete with biases that are either outside the boundaries of established mainstream scholarship or just plain wrong.”

Dr. Elizabeth Bishop, who teaches Arab history at Texas State University, echoed Jones’ sentiment that the content is biased, and argued that it specifically portrayed Israelis in a more favorable light than Palestinians.

“The text, as it stands now, is biased,” Bishop said to board member Mavis Knight. “It’s inviting the student to imagine themselves on one side of the conflict.”

Dr. Amy Jo Baker called for less “politically correct” content in textbooks. Baker has been an educator in Texas for 40 years, formerly serving as the social studies director for San Antonio schools and working with the State Board of Education on textbook reviews in the 1980s.

Baker called for use of jihad in a sixth-grade textbook to mean only to wage religious Islamic war, instead of meaning both religious conflict as well as “struggle,” free of religious implications.

She also called for the use of the abbreviation "B.C.", or Before Christ, rather than "B.C.E.", or Before Common Era. Board member Mavis Knight suggested the use of both, and that the explanation of both terms wouldn’t be historically inaccurate.

“What is wrong with the student being aware of both B.C. and B.C.E.?” Knight asked. “I didn’t even know what B.C.E. meant until I was on this board.”  

While the board won’t take a final vote on the materials until November, many say Texas’ decision will influence textbook publishers because of the state’s buying power. Still, states like California have adopted their own standards of textbook content.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to correct Elizabeth Bishop's title.

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