Issue 112, Summer 2010

In Tennessee and Texas, two states where the chainsaw-roar of censorship has been heard for generations, today’s textbook censors are wielding subtler weapons in their efforts to get rid of ideas which don’t conform to their political and religious beliefs. 
In Tennessee, the state which played host to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, recent controversy focused on an AP biology textbook called Asking About Life and specifically on a passage which itself described the history of controversies over teaching evolution in public school:
"In 1973, antievolutionists in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana passed identical bills calling for ‘equal time’ for teaching evolution and creationism, the biblical myth italics added that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days." The formal challenge claimed that to call creationism a “biblical myth” was an insult to Christian faith. The Knox County school board duly followed its protocol for textbook challenges and referred Asking About Life to a review committee.

The committee recommended retaining the book, but at an April board meeting passions erupted as TV cameras recorded the proceedings. The meeting threatened to career out of control until the chairwoman tabled the discussion and postponed the final vote. At the May 5 meeting, the board voted (6-3) to keep Asking About Life in the Knox County curriculum. 
Things are not so simple in Texas, home of the late Mel and Norma Gabler, two prominent early campaigners against textbooks they considered "anti-Christian.” Earlier this spring, the Texas State Board of Education voted to make hundreds of revisions to the state’s social studies curriculum, largely to reflect the personal ideological and religious beliefs of the board’s majority. Concerned onlookers across the country have watched with alarm as the Texas Board has proceeded, as outgoing chairman Don McLeroy put it, to “stand up to experts.”  

Individually, many of the proposed changes are unremarkable. Historical events can, after all, be told from different perspectives. Cumulatively, though, the proposed changes are clearly intended to have the effect, as one aggrieved board member put it, of “rewriting history." Board members, with their own view of history, see this as simply setting the record straight: 

"I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state." (David Bradley)

"… Americans fail to realize the socialistic, and even communistic, world views so inculcated into every area of our society." (Cynthia Dunbar)

"…we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan – he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last 20 years…" (Don McLeroy )

It is no secret that holders of political power have always tried to impose their own views of history, and questions of emphasis and perspective will always be debated.  However, the Texas Board of Education – a board composed chiefly of laypeople, not historians or educators  –  decided to “stand up to experts” and substitute their personal religious and ideological perspectives as fact.  Teaching ideological conformity with any agenda – right or left – will not produce the informed, independent-minded citizens U.S. democracy urgently needs.