Seventy-two-year-old Neal Frey has a really interesting, yet sad, way of spending his days. A “textbook analyst,” he puts on his fundamentalist Christian lenses and scrutinizes Texas’ future educational materials.
Like I said: sad!
Frey is a part of something called “Educational Research Analysts” (ERA). The name sounds good, like it might be connected with a university or a think tank. Nope. This group, which is based in the town of Longview, is a Religious Right outfit. It consists of volunteers who sit in their homes and “review” public school textbooks that are pending formal approval in Texas and root out things like liberal bias, anti-Christian sentiment, evolution and so on.
ERA has been around for a while. It was founded by Mel and Norma Gabler in 1961. The Gablers had no academic credentials to review textbooks, but they did it anyway. They literally started the group in their kitchen.
The Gablers are both dead, but the group lives on. Frey took over in 2004.
Reporting Texas reported that ERA reviews textbooks “on their ‘respect for Judeo-Christian morals’” and “scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theories.”
Frey really charmed me at the “scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theories.” Truly brilliant, dude. But anyway, he apparently tries to influence publishing companies by sending them helpful letters with lists of recommended edits.
"My motto is, the less I say the better people listen,” Frey said. “You have to have credibility and confidentially.”
Except Frey isn’t “saying less.” Nor does he have credibility for any of the criteria he suggests. He’s simply trying to find a loophole around keeping religion out of public schools by pressuring textbooks editors.
Unfortunately, it works.
A former Texas Education Agency official named David Anderson confirmed to Reporting Texas, a media site run by the University of Texas-Austin’s School of Journalism, that as an official, he observed “publishers make changes as a result of information from Frey.” That included a notable 2004 flap when the Texas Board of Education defined marriage as being only between one man and one woman, per ERA’s recommendation. (Which the Houston Chronicle notes is one of Frey’s biggest wins. Sad!)
Are textbooks in your local public schools being influenced by fundamentalist Christians in Texas? Possibly.
That influence is honestly terrifying, considering the group’s fondness for promoting misogynistic, racist, homophobic and anti-science content in its suggestions.
The group’s website features some disturbing guides and analyses of textbooks that cover science, health, social studies and more. I took it upon myself to lose some brain cells by reading an “analysis” of some of the reading materials Texas approved for public schools (which ERA disapproves of because it doesn’t fit its agenda).
In one review, which drove me nuts, ERA criticized a book for “political correctness (e.g., anti-white, anti-male, anti-Christian bias).” What do they mean by that? Well, they complain about books that supposedly highlight “Meanness Of Whites To People Of Color.”
Under that heading, they list "The People Could Fly,” an acclaimed short story that some Texas 8th graders read from a textbook titled Elements of Literature. ERA’s beef is that this story has an anti-white bias because it’s a “Folk tale about oppressive whites, mistreated slaves in Old South.”
So, this group was offended that this story was being “mean” by misrepresenting white slave owners! According to ERA, it’s “mean” to accurately portray history through literature. Can you imagine? People being “mean” to others because of the color of their skin? Slave owners knew nothing about that, right?
This is merely one example, but there are hundreds of awful reviews on that site that hold up conservative Christians, whites and men as superiors.
Texas is a large state that buys a lot of textbooks for public schools. Years ago, publishers would make changes based on demands by right-wing Texans and then peddle those books in other states. The advent of more modern printing techniques has supposedly made it possible to print special “Texas editions” that are only offered in that state, but some publishers undoubtedly choose to save money by printing one set of books that reflect ERA’s concerns.
That’s a shame. It’s bad enough that kids in Texas are using books that have been dumbed-down by ERA. It would be a disgrace for this to spread nationwide.
Finally, I have a suggestion for Educational Research Analysts: Consider changing your description from a “non-profit group” to a “band of professional trolls.”