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Texas' New Social Studies Textbooks Under Fire

Several academics on Tuesday pointed to flaws — including inaccurate descriptions of world religions and out-of-date racial terminology — in proposed social studies textbooks up for adoption by the Texas State Board of Education.

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*Correction appended

Several academics on Tuesday pointed to flaws — including inaccurate descriptions of world religions and out-of-date racial terminology — in proposed social studies textbooks up for adoption by the Texas State Board of Education. 

"I believe students will believe Moses was the first American,” after reading the new texts, Kathleen Wellman, a former chairwoman of Southern Methodist University’s history department, told the board on Tuesday.

Wellman's comments came at a meeting of the 15-member elected board, which heard public testimony on the more than 300 printed and electronic products up for approval in November. Though discussion Tuesday focused on social studies, the proposed materials also include those covering math, fine arts, and technical and career education. School districts are not required to purchase textbooks from the list the board approves, but many do. 

Those testifying before the board on Tuesday also included University of Texas History Department Chairwoman Jacqueline Jones.

“These are full of biases that are either outside the established mainstream scholarship or just plain wrong, along with the omission of crucial facts,” said Jones. “It can lead to a great deal of confusion in the reader.”

She said that even texts adhering closely to the state curriculum standards distort history, specifically in instances she said glorified the free enterprise system. 

But member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, defended coverage of the free enterprise system in the texts, saying the board had pushed for it to be included in the curriculum when it updated social studies standards four years ago.

"I agree there should be a balance, but where is the balance if the experts come in here and want to totally delete free enterprise?" Mercer said.

Manpreet Singh, a former elementary school teacher who is an educational consultant with The Sikh Coalition, said she had identified at least 40 errors in the way proposed texts covered the Sikh religion. She objected particularly to the explanation of the religion as a blend of Hinduism and Islam, saying that characterization was “absolutely false.” 

“It is by no mean a derivative of any other religion and must stand on its own,” she said.

Publishers will have the chance to respond to public comments in advance of the board's November meeting, when members are expected to vote on which instructional materials submitted by publishers meet state curriculum standards.

"This process is not going to be perfect. These books are not going to be perfect from anybody’s perspective,” said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member from Mount Pleasant. “We’ve got to remember these book are put in the hands of hopefully trained professionals who will teach these subjects in a fair and balanced and comprehensive way."

The board's meeting continues through Friday in Austin. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the number of members on the State Board of Education.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

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Public education Education Ken Mercer State Board of Education