It appeared that Texas had finished battling over textbooks — with social conservatives winning a clear victory in May — but the Texas State Board of Education is taking up another explosive curriculum question: Are Texan youth being fed a sugar-coated version of Islam while Christianity is unfairly taken to task for its sins?
At a three-day meeting that started Wednesday, the board is scheduled to consider a resolution that would require it to reject textbooks that it determines are tainted with teaching "pro-Islamic, anti-Christian half-truths and selective disinformation," a bias that it argues is reflected in current schoolbooks.
"I think our documentation clearly shows that the bias is there," said Randy Rives of Odessa, who drafted the resolution. "And we feel that it was not done on accident."
The discussion comes as Americans' distrust of Islam is on the rise, possibly as a result of a bitter controversy over the proposed construction of a mosque near "Ground Zero" of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York City. A national poll released earlier this week by the Angus Reid polling firm found that a narrow majority of Americans holds a generally unfavorable opinion of Islam, with 45 percent saying it is a religion that encourages violence. By contrast, only one American in 10 believes that either Christianity or Judaism "encourages violence," the poll found.
While proponents of the Texas textbook resolution insist that they merely want to provide balance, charges of Islamophobia are already being leveled.
The Texas Freedom Network, a liberal religion and education watchdog group, did a point-by-point analysis and rebuttal of the resolution, which it described as "ill considered" and "filled with superficial, misleading and half-baked claims designed simply to promote fear and religious prejudice."
Texas speaks, publishers listen The sheer size of Texas' textbook market means that the state's requirements and sensitivities have considerable influence on what publishers produce.
That's because Texas is the largest of about 20 "adoption" states that make decisions about textbooks at the central level — effectively dictating what some 4.7 million K-12 public school students in the state will read. That also means its textbook contracts are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"If you don't play by the rules set by the state, you don't play," said Lorraine Shanley, a principal with the publishing consultant Market Partners International in New York. "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 risqué."
So publishers are likely to take heed when the school board seizes upon an issue like the teaching of Islam, said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network, which opposes the resolution.
"Publishers take this kind of thing seriously and will do everything in their power — rewrite and revise — to make sure their book doesn't become a hot button point of contention," he said. "Publishers have Texas under the microscope."
Rives, a member of the Odessa, Texas, school board who lost his bid for the GOP nomination in state board primaries earlier this year, was nonetheless able get his resolution on the agenda with support from the board's powerful conservative bloc. He said he drafted it after conducting his own analysis of the textbooks, with the help of his wife and others.
Jihad 'sanitized' One of his supporters was board member Don McLeroy, a key player in pushing through changes to economics and history curriculum standards for public school students in May. Among those changes were provisions calling for curriculum to emphasize the importance of capitalism, raise doubts that the doctrine of separation of church and state is embedded in the Constitution and cover "the unintended consequences" of progressive "Great Society" legislation, affirmative action and Title IX, a 1972 act that mandated equal access to federally funded programs for girls, most notably for sports programs.
McLeroy said he believes that academic writers skew to the left politically and repeatedly denigrate the importance of Christianity in American culture.
"I think there is a bias," he said. "How can we go forward as a great society unless the children know what the truth is?"