Don't mess with the Texas State Board of Education.
The 15-member committee is scheduled to take up debate on an alleged "pro-Islamic" bias in the state's textbooks. During its three day meeting, which began Wednesday, the board will consider a resolution that, if passed, would mandate the group to reject textbooks with "pro-Islamic/anti-Christian" sentiments.
"I think our documentation clearly shows that the bias is there," said Randy Rives of Odessa, Texas, a failed Board of Education candidate, who submitted the resolution. "And we feel that it was not done on accident."
Check out a video of Rives speaking on the issue at the July 23 State Board of Education meeting:
Texas has gradually developed a reputation for being not only a critical player in the academic textbook industry -- serving approximately 4.7 million students -- but also a hotbed for cultural debate over what is taught in primary schools. In March, the State Board of Education decided toremove Thomas Jefferson from a world history section discussing notable political thinkers. (It's not like the guy didn't write the Declaration of Independence.)
Surge Desk takes you to school on the upcoming resolution and the State Board of Education.
What exactly is being debated?
Essentially, the resolution warns publishers against promoting a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian tone in their textbooks. As MSNBC's Kari Huus put it, "Are Texan youth being fed a sugarcoated version of Islam while Christianity is unfairly taken to task for its sins?"
What are the specific claims in the resolution?
The resolution claims that the textbooks exhibit a "pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias" based on "half-truths, selective disinformation and false editorial stereotypes."
Specific examples include:
- Ignoring massacres of Christians at the hands of Muslims, compared with 27 lines "dwelling" on atrocities committed by Christian Crusaders against Muslims during the Middle Ages.
- The use of "pejorative" words toward Christians, compared with "superlative" word choice regarding Muslims.
- Significantly more attention devoted to Muslim beliefs, practices and culture than is given to Christianity.
Click here to read the resolution in its entirety.
Who is opposing the resolution?
The Texas Freedom Network, a liberal watchdog on religion and education, produced a point-by-point rebuttal of the resolution. In its analysis, the TFN claims that the resolution takes a selective and incomplete survey of the textbooks in question.
What are the implications?
Texas is a massive purchaser of textbooks, and publishers are largely subject to the desires and protocol of the State Board of Education.
"Basically, its school system is so large that if Texas presses publishers to make changes in textbooks, the revisions will likely spread to other states as well," NPR's Mark Memmott explained.
As history shows, the last time Texas decided to place a similar mandate on textbook publishers, the effects were in many ways considered a resounding conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks.
"If you don't play by the rules set by the state, you don't play," said Lorraine Shanley, a principal with New York publishing consultant Market Partners International. "So it's not quite the same as being a trade book publisher where a store won't take your books because they are too risque."
Why none of this matters anyway.
OK, it does matter -- and if there is in fact an anti-Christian, pro-Islam bias in the Texas textbooks, that is certainly something the board should address. But as board memberPat Hardy points out, the issue may be moot because all of the books cited by the resolution are no longer being used in Texas. According to Hardy, Rives "might want to go back and get newer copies of the books."