Tainted Textbooks: California Acts To Keep Warped History Out Of Its Social Studies Classes

"We won’t accept textbooks that minimize the contributions of minorities and propagate the close connection between church and state." --State Sen. Leland Yee

In the wake of the Texas State Board of Education’s vote adding “Christian nation” baloney and other far-right concepts to social studies standards, there has been much speculation about how other states might be affected.

The thinking goes like this: Texas is a big state that purchases a lot of textbooks. Books that are tailored to meet Texas’ demands could end up in other states.

How likely is this to happen? Some commentators say the fear is overblown, asserting that in the age of digital publishing, it’s actually not hard to produce special “Texas editions” of books.

Call me skeptical. Textbook publishers are concerned about the bottom line, and I can’t see many of them going out of their way to produce an array of textbooks, even if the technology makes it possible. I think it’s inevitable that Texas texts will wind up in other states.

One state isn’t taking the chance. The California Senate has approved a measure designed to keep Texas history books out of the Golden State.

Sen Leland Yee’s bill (SB 1451) will, as he told the Web site Rawstory.com, “make it very, very clear that we won’t accept textbooks that minimize the contributions of minorities and propagate the close connection between church and state.”

Yee’s bill pulls no punches. It labels the Texas changes “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings that are driven by an inappropriate ideological desire to influence academic content standards for children in public schools” and calls them “a serious threat to…the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”

The legislation requires California’s Board of Education to review textbooks and ensure that they comply with portions of California’s Education Code. The Board is required to report any inconsistencies to legislators.

The measure passed the Senate by a wide margin of 25-5. The vote was bipartisan – an indication of how important legislators in the state consider this issue.

The measure now goes to the California Assembly. If it passes there, it will be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. I hope he signs it -- and I hope other states consider it a model.

Meanwhile, defenders of church-separation in Texas have not given up. Some of the ultra-conservative board members have lost their seats, and a new board, which is expected to be more moderate, will take office in January.

The Dallas Morning News has called on the new board to rewrite the most offensive language in the standards.

“[W]e strongly urge the six or so moderates on the current board, plus the likely moderates joining them in January, to start thinking now about rewriting the mind-warping sections once the new board takes office,” observed the newspaper. “By then, they should form a majority and could bring more balance to these standards.”

The paper made it clear that it does not expect “a wholesale rewrite” of all of the standards but singled out points like the one playing down the separation of church and state. Or the intense favoring of studying conservative organizations and figures over liberal ones. Or contrasting Jefferson Davis’ speeches to Abraham Lincoln’s. And the repeated emphasis on the benefits of the free-enterprise system.”

Concluded the Morning News, “The new board, if it moves fast, still can correct the most egregious sections. What’s important is that those moderates who might be so inclined start that work now, for everyone’s benefit.”

What happened in Texas was discouraging. It should serve as a lesson to all of us about the ongoing power of the Religious Right. But it need not be the final word.

Stay tuned. There’s definitely more to this story.