“It Boggles My Mind the Kind of Power We Have”

by Robert Pondiscio
February 1st, 2010

The article has been out for nearly a month, but I just caught up to “Revisionaries,” Mariah Blake’s exceptional piece on the curriculum  battles in Texas in the current issue of Washington Monthly.  It’s conventional wisdom that Texas wields outsize influence on textbooks nationwide because of its statewide adoption policies.  With California, the other textbook behemoth, putting off buying new books until 2014, Texas now has “unparalleled power to shape the textbooks that children around the country read for years to come,” Blake writes.  That power largely rests, she says, with Don McLeroy.

The jovial creationist sits on the Texas State Board of Education, where he is one of the leaders of an activist bloc that holds enormous sway over the body’s decisions. As the state goes through the once-in-a-decade process of rewriting the standards for its textbooks, the faction is using its clout to infuse them with ultraconservative ideals. Among other things, they aim to rehabilitate Joseph McCarthy, bring global-warming denial into science class, and downplay the contributions of the civil rights movement.

Blake’s article is a fascinating trip through the last 50 years or so of Texas politics and conservative activism, most notably the discovery in the 1960s by Norma and Mel Gabler, a housewife and an oil-company clerk, that Texas had “a little-known citizen-review process that allowed the public to weigh in on textbook content.” 

When textbook adoptions rolled around, the Gablers would descend on school board meetings with long lists of proposed changes—at one point their aggregate “scroll of shame” was fifty-four feet long. They also began stirring up other social conservatives, and eventually came to wield breathtaking influence. By the 1980s, the board was demanding that publishers make hundreds of the Gablers’ changes each cycle. These ranged from rewriting entire passages to simple fixes, such as pulling the New Deal from a timeline of significant historical events (the Gablers thought it smacked of socialism) and describing the Reagan administration’s 1983 military intervention in Grenada as a “rescue” rather than an “invasion.”

To avoid running afoul of the Gablers and other activists, “many publishers started self-censoring or allowing the couple to weigh in on textbooks in advance,” Blake notes. 

McLeroy describes his current efforts, apparently in earnest, as a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.  “There are people out there who want to replace truth with political correctness. Instead of the American way they want multiculturalism. We plan to fight back—and, when it comes to textbooks, we have the power to do it,”  he tells Blake, concluding with stunning candor:  “Sometimes it boggles my mind the kind of power we have.”

Preschoolers of the World Unite!

by Robert Pondiscio
January 25th, 2010

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  A proletarian revolution and a worker’s paradise, apparently. 

The Texas State Board of Education, an endless source of entertaining curriculum news, has struck again, banning the classic children’s book, which was illustrated by Eric Carle.  Why?  Bill Martin, Jr., who wrote the text for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is also the author of Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.

Except he’s not. 

Bill Martin the children’s author died in 2004.  The book on Marxism was written by a philosophy professor at DePaul University.  Same name, different author, notes the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

Bill Martin Jr. who wrote the Brown Bear series never wrote anything political, unless you count a book that taught kids how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, his friends said. Bill Martin Jr.’s name would have been included on a list with author Laura Ingalls Wilder and artist Carmen Lomas Garza as examples of individuals who would be studied for their cultural contributions.

Give the Texas State Ed Board low Marx for not doing their homework.