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Textbook Politics

March 29, 2002

The following article in the Wall Street Journal refers to the politicization of textbooks in elementary schools. What the writer fails to recognize is that the textbook agenda is itself driven by none other than federal law.

The NAEP test assesses progress of states and school districts toward the new federal curriculum. Norm-referenced achievement tests have been aligned with the new politicization of the curricula. When federal bureaucrats in Washington DC are determining the curriculum, the "National Standards," and assessing progress toward that curriculum with a national test (the NAEP), we do have a highly charged political agenda propagandizing our children.

In our article, Civic Virtue and National Standards, we quote from the Center for Civic Education (CCE), a private NGO that has been granted authority to develop the core federal standards by "No Child Left Behind."

The CCE tells us who the standards are for:

"For teachers ("clear statements of what they should teach.")

For credentialing institutions ("guidelines for training teachers.")

For assessment specialists ("to determine acceptable levels of performance." - [translate, the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), the national test mandated for all states under No Child Left Behind.])

For curriculum developers (for the development of "curricular programs.") - [translate, textbooks and workbooks.]

For policy makers ("for the development and implementation of public policy in education." - [translate, legislators and administrators.])

It begins even in our early childhood curriculum. Under the directive of Goal 1 of Goals 2000 ("Every child will begin school ready to learn"), government is taking authority over the "curriculum" of what our youngest children are taught. Our February 8, 2002 update discussed the Early Childhood credentialing curriculum called TEACH, being aggressively promoted by various government agencies and wealthy private foundations (See our article, Child Care Credentialing) In that update we showed the following examples of deliberate training in very young children to become political protesters:

"That's Not Fair! - A Teacher's Guide to Activism with Young Children

"Teachers do activism projects with young children based on:

- Environmentalism, acceptance of homosexuality, affirmative action, feminism, homelessness, violence prevention, anti- military themes...

- a teacher reading books to the children in order to "bring up big issues, issues that provoke debate, discussion, and often, activism project."

We have not begun to see the breadth and depth of this undermining of our freedom if we focus on individual textbook companies, individual school boards and individual teachers. The federal government has grabbed authority over local schools and parents in brazen violation of the US Constitution (read Amendment 10 of the Bill of Rights). They have done this in the name of "improving" education. The constitution was established to protect citizens from the overarching power of centralized and consolidated federal powers. We have ignored those constitutional protective mandates at our peril.

Opinion Journal
From the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page

Textbook Politics
Liberals are shocked, shocked that some education critics have an agenda.

By Collin Levey
Thursday, March 28, 2002 12:01 a.m. EST

Remember the soda snippers? Those were the little kids who, armed with scissors and eco-militancy learned in the classroom, would descend on their parents' refrigerators and snip apart all the plastic six-pack holders found therein.

This was God's work, to be sure, since somewhere somebody once found a sea-going turtle that had strangled itself on one of these waste products of the carbonated-industrial complex. But it was always a mystery how the kiddos suddenly came by their new enthusiasms.

We now have our answer: school textbooks. For many in the public school system, the primary goal of education has been to drive a new level of political awareness in the next generation. The outrages of big business, the fragile environment and the oppression of native cultures have become a sort of holy trinity within the curriculum. (Witness passages about clear-cutting trees as part of a reprehensible "frontier" mentality.) And, of course, these things are also much more fun to teach than, say, monatomic ions.

It was only a matter of time until blatant politicization of the elementary school curriculum provoked a counterreaction, and now it has. The state of Texas in particular has become the primary battleground in the new culture war over what is fed to children through textbooks.

Back in November, the Texas Department of Education reviewed and ultimately rejected a series of science textbooks that seemed to be promoting dubious agendas with dubious facts. One such text came with the enchanting title "Creating a Sustainable Future," which already sounded bad to a state whose economy is based largely on oil.

Worse, the Texas Public Policy Foundation reported finding 262 errors in the books up for review last fall during the school board's review process. Among passages on the evils of global warming and the importance of environmental protection were plain old sloppy errors, like one saying that the sun is stationary.

This can of worms having been opened, the contents were bound to slither across the entire curriculum. Now history and social studies are getting their turn for scrutiny. The last time they came around, scrabbles broke out over everything from George Washington's religious belief to whether or not Jesus Christ's birth should be included on historical timelines. A repeat performance is surely on the way in the coming months.

The thing has gotten so embroiled in Texas now that even the process of scrutiny has come under scrutiny. Militant members of the public and organized interest groups (not to mention Texas editorialists) have been getting into the act. What was once a realm delegated to seasoned and trusted professionals has become, of necessity, a matter of counting votes and politicized shouting.

This week the Texas State Board of Education met just to organize itself for the period of upcoming public comment on some 200 textbooks being considered for use by individual districts. The board members spent more than 11 hours debating how long everyone should debate.

Isn't this just the price we pay for democracy? For the most part, the objections and debate that have come from the process have been eminently reasonable. Most of the parents and voters aren't trying to force an agenda down anybody's throat. And if teachers and administrators had stuck to providing an education rather than political indoctrination, the public would undoubtedly have been glad to let them go about their business. But nothing about public involvement is reasonable as far as the Texas school board's Democratic members are concerned. "Groups of extremists are organized in an attempt to censor our textbooks by removing material that is unacceptable to them," Mary Helen Berlanga, a voice of the liberal faction, bawled recently. Having gotten used to exercising power over what is fed to impressionable minds, Ms. Berenga and allies are loath to give it up.

State law, as amended since 1995, allows the board to reject books only on the basis of factual errors. That's not exactly a slippery slope to growing little creationists and slavery apologists, as some are now suggesting. The standards specify only that textbooks "strive to present all points of view and refrain from advocacy" and "avoid incorporating material from . . . special interest sources."

Sure, Texas has a few kooks. One group objected to a line drawing of a breast in a health textbook. Another complained about a picture of woman striding out with a briefcase, ready to drive her stilettos straight through the heart of family values. Yet if liberals don't like hearing from these people, they would have been smart never to politicize the educational process in the first place.

The sad truth is that school administrations themselves are too often staffed with the subpar products of education schools. Couple this with a labor-union mentality among the rank and file, and you have a teaching profession that has become less and less "professional" (devoted to the welfare of its students) and increasingly obsessed with connecting its own sense of grievance to a larger political agenda.

What are parents supposed to do but do whatever they can to take back their schools? The reason citizens in a democratic society decide to undelegate powers to their elected and appointed officials is because they've lost trust in those officials.

Texas and California, as the two biggest buyers of books, have become the molten center of a movement that is likely to ripple outward to others states. The $570 million they spend annually speaks loudly to textbook publishers, who aren't going to produce 50 different versions of every text. If your youngster begins to seem less interested in saving the whales and more interested in reciting the multiplication tables, you'll know who to thank.

Ms. Levey is an assistant features editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays


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