Greetings and Salutations;
Texas shows up again in my sights…and the news from there is mixed. As I indicated in the title of this essay, the Texas state School Board tends to control the content of the school textbooks used throughout the country. Since Texas is such a huge market FOR those textbooks, it is not a surprise that publishers are happy to knuckle under to their demands. However, I suggest that this kind of power is a real problem for all the kids in America, and, will discuss why I think this.
Let me introduce you to Mary Lou Brunner. This Grandmotherly woman is (as one can see), a Republican, and, over the past month or so has been running for a seat on the Texas State School Board. Like MOST Republicans, she drapes a flag around her shoulders, to, I assume, prove that she is the REAL Patriot in the contest. She looks like a kindly, little, old lady that would have really great cookies ready for you when you show up at her house, does she not? In her role as a Grandmother, we should be sure that she would dispense pearls of wisdom to us, garnered from a lifetime of experience, and designed to guide us on the best path for us through this complicated Journey of Life.
However, alas, appearances can be deceiving! THIS ARTICLE details a number of her views of reality, and, frankly, they scare the living daylights out of me. In short, she is a conspiracy loony, and believes that President Obama is a secret Muslim who speaks fluent Arabic, and is focused on destroying the United States.. Speaking of Conspiracy Loonies….she believes that the UN is controlled by the Illuminati, and is part of this mysterious plan to put the world under a one government dominion, all detailed in reports on “Agenda 21”. Now, for the past several months, she has been running a strong campaign to get a seat on the Texas State School Board, and get her the power she needs to put HER Agenda into the textbooks used by all the school systems in America! As of yesterday, though, as reported by the New York Times, her bid was defeated by a somewhat more sane fellow by the name of Kevin Ellis. The fact that she looked as if she had a lock on the seat for much of her campaign should worry all of us though. .
Why is the lock that Texas has on Textbooks a bad thing?
- Look at Mary Lou! While she is, I am sure, a delightful person, her views of reality, and her desire to push her agenda ensures that textbooks will end up having data in them that has NO contact with reality. This insistence on teaching Creationism in schools is foolish, as it has no facts to support it, but is little more than an opinion based on the fantasies of a fevered brow!
- Over the years, the control that Texas has on content has caused history to be re-written to fit an agenda, rather than the facts. THIS ARTICLE, for example, speaks to the “sanitizing” of history to make our Founding Fathers look like Christians, to ignore issues of integration, and to claim that America was founded as a Christian Nation.
- The issue of Creationism versus Evolution has been a hot button for decades. THIS ARTICLE discusses the changes demanded by Texas.
- Texas has, in the past, required publishers to delete references to the LGBT community, including removing contact information for suicide prevention and other help lines. THIS ARTICLE touches on these changes
I could go on however, I think this makes the point sufficiently well that one state’s ultra-conservative agenda has, and will re-write textbooks to match their prejudices. It is my view of reality that schools should be purely fact based, and presenting ONLY scientifically valid data to the students. There is no room in education for religious indoctrination, or conspiracy theories based on lies, or nothing but rumor.
That having been said, I am in no way trying to call for the control of what an individual citizen believes. I, for one, as a life-long Lutheran, am quite comfortable with religion, and a belief system that includes it. While I may feel that people who believe in conspiracies to take over the world, or control the population are a bit sad, and rather ignorant, I do not think that they should be banned from believing about the Illuminati, or Chem-Trails, or Vaccines, or any of the flood of other theories that distract from reality.
How would I fix the problem?
Well, that is a challenge! One way would be to set up a section in the Federal Department of Education, whose job would be to write the specifications for school text books, and, then, have the responsibility of vetting the books published to find which ones diverged from that standard. This is appealing, in a way, because it would tend to remove the local bias and prejudices from published books. It would also leave the freedom for the publishers to print divergent books, that individual states could purchase. There are some problems with this approach of course. For example, it increases the size of the Federal Government. It works on a “One Size Fits All” model that may not work well for the entire country. Finally, it still allows large school systems to purchase textbooks with the same sort of factual errors I mentioned above.
We could eliminate the concept of printed textbooks entirely. For the cost of one book, it would be possible to equip every student with a tablet that pulls readings, and tests, from a server run by some level of school board. This would save huge numbers of trees, of course, and would allow the data being presented the students to be updated in a timely manner. Problems with this? Well, first off, it requires teachers to be flexible enough in their thinking to be able to deal with adding tablets and other technology to the classroom. It is my experience that while this problem is easing as older teachers retire and younger ones take their place, there is still a huge resistence in the school system to change like this. It also requires that all students have a level of competency with using technology. Again, this is rather better than it used to be, but, there are still far too many kids that have not developed the skills necessary to deal with the technology. It would also be a body blow to the publishers, who make a huge profit off school textbooks. Finally, it would take a level of competency to get the servers set up, and running. This costs money, and, schools are perpetually low on funding.
If I could wave a magic wand and fix the problem, though, I would go with the second option. Not only is technology likely to be a huge part of our society for well into the future, but, there is such a flood of new information, and re-interpretations of old data happening that a printed textbook is close to being obsolete by the time it rolls off the press and into the warehouse..
Bee Man Dave.