Behind the Textbook ‘Culture Wars’

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More than a few people have wondered who really authored the inflammatory anti-Muslim resolution the Texas State Board of Education passed in September. Randy Rives, a failed state board candidate from Odessa, asked the board in July to pass the resolution. Rives has told reporters that he and his wife wrote the resolution and combed through 11-year-old textbooks to find supporting “facts” for it. A TFN analysis shows how the resolution was based on grossly misleading and outright false claims.

In any case, we have been suspicious of Rives’ claim that he authored the resolution, if for no other reason than that the textbooks on which the measure was based haven’t been used in Texas for more than seven years. In fact, the Texas Education Agency didn’t even have those old world history textbooks on file in Austin. Yet Rives claims that he managed to get hold of those textbooks in Odessa.

Well, maybe he did. But we have a much more plausible theory about where that resolution really originated: Educational Research Analysts, the old right-wing warhorse of the textbook “culture wars” in Texas.

Educational Research Analysts, founded by Mel and Norma Gabler in East Texas, describes itself as a “conservative Christian organization that reviews textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas.” Among its “subject areas of concern” are “scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theories,” “respect for Judeo-Christian morals,” “emphasis on abstinence in sex education” and “politically-correct degradation of academic.”

Rives offered his anti-Muslim resolution in July. Around the same time, Educational Research Analysts published its July newsletter praising the state board for its adoption of new social studies curriculum standards two months earlier. The same newsletter also demanded, coincidentally or not, that the state board insist that textbooks stop promoting Islam and attacking Christianity (a claim not supported by the facts). The newsletter didn’t mention the Rives resolution, but much of the newsletter’s anti-Muslim screed echoed claims in that measure, saying in part:

“In World History the SBOE should take action in the interna­tional as well as the national culture war. It should check both militant Islamic cultural jihadists (backed by Arab petrowealth in the U.S. textbook industry), and American academic secularists, in their com­bined assault on Christianity in World History classes.”

Was Educational Research Analysts behind the Rives resolution and its passage by the state board’s far-right faction? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time the organization has pressured the board and textbook publishers to bow to an ideological agenda. In fact, the Gablers had prominent roles in the Texas textbook wars for decades before their deaths (Mel in 2004 and Norma in 2007). In their final years, the Gablers turned their operation over to Neal Frey, who has been just as active but has maintained a somewhat lower public profile.

In 2004 board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, used a document written Frey to attack proposed new health textbooks for allegedly undermining Texas law. The textbooks, Leo and Frey absurdly claimed, used “asexual stealth phrases” like “couples” and “adults” instead of “husbands and wives” and “mothers and fathers.” As a result, they argued, the textbooks were promoting (somehow) the notion that same-sex marriage is acceptable and legal in Texas. Publishers gave those off-the-wall charges credibility by agreeing to add to their textbooks a definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Given that the anti-Muslim resolution has no legal weight, it seems clear that its purpose is to intimidate and pressure publishers much as Leo and Frey did in 2004. That’s how the board’s culture warriors try to get around statutory limits on their ability to censor textbooks and promote a divisive ideological agenda in the classrooms of Texas schoolchildren.

4 Responses to “Behind the Textbook ‘Culture Wars’”

  1. KateNonymous Says:

    There’s Arab petro-wealth in the U.S. textbook industry? How come I didn’t get any?

  2. derBrat Says:

    Minor correction: the people starting the organization mentioned were the Gablers not Galbers.

  3. TFN Says:

    Oops. Thanks for catching the typo. Fixed now.

  4. David Bigwood Says:

    I’m waiting for the SBOE to issue a statement decrying the use of Arab-petro wealth by the Chamber of Commerce to influence elections. It has been documented and strikes at the very foundations of our democracy. Maybe it should get discussed in social science classes? Maybe the example of foreign money leading to the partation of Poland would be useful? Details here: http://thinkprogress.org/2010/10/05/foreign-chamber-commerce

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