Textbook Case: Texas Education Board Seeks To De-Politicize Book Review Process – Maybe

We’re glad to see Texas appears to be moving in the right direction, but we will nonetheless continue to monitor the proceedings of the next textbook review process later this year.

It looks like Texas may be trying to put an end to its annual showdown over whether to add creationism to public school science textbooks.

A new procedural change does something fairly radical: It gives priority to qualified teachers on the external review panels that assist the book selection process.

The Texas State Board of Education consists of 15 members who are responsible for selecting the books that schools will use. The board has long been controlled by social conservatives with fundamentalist agendas, and many of those individuals made no secret of their desire to undermine evolution.

While the board members have final say over the books, outside review panels are consulted as part of the decision-making process. In recent years, these panels have been rife with anti-science interests. What they’ve often lacked are people with actual experience in public education. These panels cannot make final decisions, but reportedly can have great influence over which books are chosen for use in schools.

As a result the selection process has become a total church-state mess, and because Texas is the second-most populous state in the U.S., the books chosen in the Lone Star State could end up circulating in other states.

Problems were particularly evident last year, when completely unqualified book reviewers, including a nutritionist and a chemical engineer, made a serious stink in protesting a proposed biology textbook that they claimed had too much space devoted to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

There have also been squabbles over social studies texts. A few years ago, “Christian nation” pseudo-historian David Barton was invited to take part in the review process. His presence was not helpful.

After a series of debacles, it seems some progress is finally here. Last week, the board said it has made some changes concerning who can sit on the review panels. The Associated Press reported that teachers with expertise in relevant subject areas will get priority when it comes time to choose panelists, and the board will be able to select additional outside experts to review panel recommendations.

Will this finally bring an end to roughly 30 years of infighting over science textbooks? We don’t know. Even some board members didn’t sound sure.

“It won’t eliminate politics, but it will make it where it’s a more informed process,” Thomas Ratliff, a Republican who approved of the changes, told the AP.

Ratliff added that the changes “force us to find qualified people, leave them alone and let them do their jobs.”

Although the AP said the changes were approved unanimously, it’s clear not everyone is on board.

David Bradley, a staunch conservative who sought to minimize the approved changes to the review process, asserted that liberal voices are silencing Christian viewpoints.

“Liberals are really trying to make it difficult for Christians and conservatives to have a voice in public education,” he opined.

Bradley also expressed a truly delusional viewpoint that past reviewers who sought to undermine evolution were actually doing students a favor by attempting to correct errors.  

“Maybe it’s embarrassing when citizens step forth and show some of the blatant inaccuracies in our American history, references to our founding fathers, our Christian heritage, truly errors,” Bradley said. “But to try and silence them with intimidation I think is wrong and that’s what this is all about.”

That is a disturbingly inaccurate sentiment, and it shows why there’s room for doubt that anything substantial will change with Texas’ textbook review process. As long as people on the board advocate for “Christian nation” fallacies and seek to undermine sound science, it will be extremely difficult for Texas’ public school students to receive an education that supports evolution and is free of religious coercion.

We’re glad to see Texas appears to be moving in the right direction, but we will nonetheless continue to monitor the proceedings of the next textbook review process later this year.

The Texas State Board of Education simply hasn’t earned our trust after decades of pushing creationism. This sounds like a good change, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on things.