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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Reading, Writing, and 'Politically Correct' Textbooks

By David Brody
Congressional Correspondent

Out of the 22 states that have a process for approval of textbooks, publishers concentrate on getting approved in the two biggest states, Texas and California.

CBN.com – WASHINGTON -- When you send your children off to public school this fall, you may think they are getting a good education. And indeed, many schools in the country have fine academic principles. But beneath the surface, there is something else going on. Political correctness has reached new heights and it is even affecting what your children are being taught in today's textbooks.
The game is tug of war. It is a classic. If you lose, no big deal. But there is another, much more serious tug of war being played out in our nation's public schools. It revolves around textbooks. The struggle is over the ideology and words inside. Religious conservatives see the world one way. Secular liberals see it completely different.
David Barton is president of the Christian group Wallbuilders. "So many citizens just assume that the textbooks are good," Barton says, "that they were good when I went to school, they're good for my kids."
Barton says that's just not true.
Political correctness seems to be the problem. In an effort to not offend any one group, especially when it comes to history, what happens is that the full story is not being told. Barton says key information is ignored or left out. Like with the Native American Indians.
Says Barton, "There were just some Native American tribes that were cannibalistic and that's just the way they were, and you just can't make them look good."
It is not just history. In Diane Ravitch's book, 'The Language Police," she cites numerous examples of words that are on the 'no-no' list, in just everyday conversation. For example, words like "tomboy" and "manpower" are now considered sexist.
And you can't say "old man" or "old lady" because it is demeaning to older people. And in some books, it is not Adam and Eve. It is Eve and Adam, so it can be shown that males don't take priority over females.
So how does it get to this point? First, a state asks the publisher for a textbook. The publisher then writes the book and then the sensitivity committees scrutinize it. They check to make sure no group could be offended. It then goes back to the state and it must meet their standards.
Creating a separate book for every state would cost publishers too much. So out of the 22 states that have a process for approval of textbooks, they concentrate on getting approved in the two biggest states, Texas and California. Twelve percent of all textbooks are bought in California, eight percent in Texas. That's 20 percent in just those two states.
When a textbook publisher invests $30 to $50 million to do a California or a Texas textbook, that is what they take to all the other states.
So that's why CBN News came to Texas, specifically, Longview, Texas. This is where liberals and conservatives are fighting over what should be inside these textbooks.
It is also the hometown of Mel and Norma Gabler, and the publishers know all about the Gablers. As a matter of fact, they have been called a force to be reckoned with.
Norma Gabler says, "One of the publishers told me, he said, Ms. Gabler, I'd rather face anyone in the nation but you!"
Mel is 89, Norma is 81. If a publisher wants to get published in Texas, he must get past the Gablers, a Christian couple who has been reviewing textbooks for four decades now.
Mel says, "One of the secrets of our work has been the persistency, the consistency.

Norma adds, "We don't quit!"
And through the years, they have found lots of mistakes. Mel comments, "The student edition asks, 'How was the Korean War ended?' The teachers' edition says the police action was ended by (Harry) Truman, by using the bomb. The A-bomb! In Korea!"
The Gablers also make sure these books do not just spin history from the liberal side. Mel says our kids deserve as much. "They're the future of our nation," he says. "They're getting cheated, because they're only getting one side of practically every issue."
Mel and Norma are still active though most of the heavy lifting now is left to Neil Fry, who reads each and every book from science to history.
Because of the Gablers and others down here in the South, the conservative viewpoint wins out quite a bit. But if we leave the South and we head west, it's a much different story
In more liberal California, like Sacramento, the state Capitol, the legislature and the California Board of Education have much different textbook standards than in Texas. Some are calling them simply off the charts and it has many wondering just what's going on out here.
The California standards for evaluating social content say, "When ethnic or cultural groups are portrayed, portrayals must not depict differences in customs or lifestyles as undesirable, and must not reflect adversely on such differences."
So for example, when it comes to learning about Islam, the mistreatment of women is not highlighted. Instead, you will see numerous mentions of Muhammad's name as well as verses from the Koran.
Rae Belisle is Executive Director of the California Board of Education. CBN News asked Belisle what the response to parents is who look at the textbooks and say 'I can't believe they're teaching that'?
Belisle responds, "Yeah, I understand. I mean, I'm a parent. I have similar reactions many times."
Stephen Dreisler with the Association of American Publishers says publishers are caught in the middle. "You may not totally agree with everything they say in here," Dreisler says, "but if you want to sell textbooks in California, you have to abide by their sensitivity guidelines."
Belisle admits outside groups are pushing their agendas. "I think that there is a push to have different focuses, because if you can get your social agenda into public school, that's quite a positive force, and so that's always the tug of war."
So who is writing all of these so-called controversial books? Well, one of them happens to be Gary Nash. He's professor of history at UCLA. Some of his critics say he is distorting history and in the process getting the history of our country all wrong.
Nash was asked if he looked at himself as pro-American, and he replied, "Oh yes. Very much so."
Nash says his books don't bash America.
"I don't know of any historians who want to be historians in order to trash America," he says. "No. I would say they want to be historians to improve America."
But his critics say his books spout a philosophy of multiculturalism, that America was formed from a blending of Indian, West African and European cultures. One of his books says, "In time, this cultural exchange would form the foundation for a new nation, the United States of America."
"It's an attempt to be honest and balanced about the different contributions and sacrifices these groups have made," says Nash.
But critics say Nash downplays how America is a product of mostly British influences and that the predominant religion was Christianity.
CBN News asked Nash, "Do you consider yourself more from the liberal side of writing textbooks? He replied, "Well, I'm a liberal in politics, sure."
And Nash says it can be hard to distance your politics from your writing. "There's no way that that can be completely 100 percent dissociated from the way you present American history or German history or Chinese history."
Barton says when writing history, those writing these textbooks might want to look at how the Bible does it.
"When you get the story of David, you get all of it," says Barton. "You get his victories, his failures, you get his murder, his screwed-up family. You get the good, the bad, the ugly."
But as for the textbooks today, what can parents do? How about showing up at a school board meeting?
Belisle says, "If you don't go there, then you have no idea what's going on in your school, no idea what your children are being taught. You just have to be diligent. That's all there is to it."
Dreisler remarks, "Woody Allen used to say, 'The world is run by the people who show up."

And in this tug of war, that is a philosophy that both liberals and conservatives can agree on.
NOTE: Parents who are concerned about what their school may be teaching children should contact their local school board and find out when they meet. Then they should attend board meetings on a monthly basis to keep informed of current teaching materials and practices.

© Copyright 2004. The Christian Broadcasting Network.

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