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Posted at 10:20 AM ET, 03/17/2010

Texas and its history mess--deja vu all over again

By Valerie Strauss

Texas has been here before, here being in a mess with its American history curriculum and textbooks.

The great state is in the spotlight now because its state board of education pushed through some silly and historically inaccurate revisions to the Texas social studies curriculum which historians say pervert American history.

There is, for example, a new requirement for students to study both Abraham Lincoln’s and Jefferson Davis’ inaugural addresses, as if they had equal historical weight.

You get the picture. My colleague Michael Birnbaum wrote about it here, quoting historians expressing alarm -- again.

Back in the early 1990s, Texas adopted new history textbooks, for about $20 million, that apparently nobody in the state education world bothered to check. They were riddled with mistakes.

As part of the crazy state textbook adoption process -- of which I will write more about later -- publishers submitted samples of 10 new U.S. history books, four for 8th grade and six for high school.

According to this account from the Textbook League, an organization that supports the creation and adoption of accurate textbooks, the books were reviewed by a selection committee appointed by the state board of education that included 14 educators. Their job was to check whether the material in the books met state requirements for history book.

Rather inexplicably, the committee did not, however, check the material for mistakes.

Over a period of months, independent fact-checkers began to find historical mistakes, first in the tens, then in the hundreds. Eventually several thousand factual errors were found; some were punctuation and grammar, but others were doozies.

One of them, for example, said that the Sputnick rocket that the Soviet Union sent into space in the 1950s was a nuclear missile.

The Texas board of education went through months of hearings, promising to force the publishers to eliminate the mistakes and pay hefty fines for making them in the first place. In the end, all of the error-plagued books were adopted, though all of the errors had not been corrected.

Some states never learn.


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By Valerie Strauss  | March 17, 2010; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  History  | Tags:  Texas history standards  
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Next: World premiere of 'Wimpy Kid' movie at Virginia school


Perhaps it is time for honest Americans who value the truth to take their business to companies from states populated by other honest Americans who value the truth.

Posted by: avipincus | March 17, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Can anyone cite the factual, grammer, and punctuation error rate for other states?

I always liked that Tuna, Texas news flash, "Nuclear war devestates seven states... Texas not one of them."

Posted by: blasmaic | March 17, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

One could argue that politicization of education is an inevitable consequence of public schools with electable school boards; but school board members can and should both show restraint in acting on their own biases and defer to experts when formulating curricula. In this case, the Texas school board did neither. It is not the job of public schools to teach morality, but rather reading, writing, and arithmetic. Personal responsibility for one's actions shouldn't be taught at school; it is something that parents must teach at home, or that should be taught at church.

Posted by: ChristopherCarr | March 17, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Texas sounds more irresponsible at every turn. Even their prison system was so corrupt that the federal government had to take it over. Maybe the feds should look at their education system too. Texas seems to live in an alternate universe.

Posted by: clairevb | March 17, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

There are greater problems with statewide textbook commissions than just errors. Particularly the corruption that intrudes when the people making the decisions are not the ones who have to live with the consequences.

The famous American Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman (now deceased) wrote a memoir titled "Surely you're Joking Mr. Feynman" which became a best seller. It is a very readable book about his experiences, with almost nothing technical in it. One of his experiences was being appointed to the California textbook selection commission and how appalled he was by the corruption of the process. I suggest reading his entire book, but there is an except on his textbook experience at:

You might also want to read Tamim Ansary's essay on Edutopia titled "The Muddle Machine" of his/her experiences as a textbook editor. It starts with his first crisis "The books are done and we still don't have an author!" See at:

Posted by: zoniedude | March 17, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

The Texas State Board of Education sounds just like Russia of the past and Iran of the present. They're rewriting history to push a political agenda. Any state outside of Texas buying these textbooks to save money should be ashamed. Teach kids history, not some right-wing version of it.

Posted by: chadborman | March 17, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Why would a textbook have anything on the HipHop culture? I would think that is insulting to Black people. They have accomplished much more than HipHop. They can have chapters on President Obama, Doug Wilder, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, etc.

Hip Hop? calling women B-- and hos?

Posted by: Cornell1984 | March 17, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

That's what happens every single time you give stupid people control of anything.

--faye kane, homeless brain
Read more of my smartmouth opinions at

Posted by: Knee_Cheese_Zarathustra | March 17, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

These school board Republicans did not downplay Thomas Jefferson due to analytical differences; they did it because he is the person most credited with the phrase "separation of church and state", and these hicks don't like separation of church and state. One of them actually bet $1000 of his own money saying that no one can prove that the Constitution says that. Obviously, he hasn't taken any history or constitutional law courses, but that didn't stop him from taking up a completely uninformed position.

Texas, you get what you get when you don't pay careful attention. At least the folks of Dover got mad and dumped their school board when it tried to introduce Creationism. You need to fix your own school board or your kids will be dumb as a brick and proud of it.

Posted by: ernesthua | March 17, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of the story -- Must you use the overworked "deja vu all over again"?

Now, after seeing the phrase repeated for 30 years by tired journalists, several generations of people don't realise the term is both redundant and stupid, and never was that funny when first coined.

Posted by: 6284mk | March 17, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Great info I would also suggest using
Save Money, Save The Planet specializes in the recycling of textbooks, DVDs, CDs. Buying used textbooks not only saves you money, but cuts down on greenhouse gases caused by the manufacturing of new textbooks.
With you're not only saving trees, you are saving some green.

Posted by: greentextbooks | March 17, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Cute ad, greentextbooks, but not germane.
Teaching with out-of-date textbooks in such a technically changing world?
Not a very good idea.
Maybe it would work in Ethiopia.
What's been happening in Texas is that some of the very fundamentalist churches have been drumming up business for years foisting off on their congregations a myth about the so-called (i.e., their version) "Christian" religion under assault from discrimination by the hated government.
Combine that with championing a form of "witness" in which they get into people's faces demanding to know if they've been "born again", appended to a belief that this is the "End-Times" (proof: just look at all the earthquakes, etc. this year), and you have developed a militant gang.
Add to that the siren song of the NRA and the Texas militia that "they're coming to rip our guns out of our cold, dead hands" and you have rampant rage.
Then let the most outrageous groups run a phalynx of candidates for the Texas State Board of Education (a down-ballot slot in each district that few people pay much attention to) and there you have it.
The TXSBOE is in a hammerlock by the crazies.
Suddenly, we look up and Texas has become the new home of the Scopes' monkey business and the myths of creationism, denial of American history, etc.
Is Texas embarrassed?
Sure, we regular folks feel deep fury at this result of low voter turnout and voter apathy.
It looks like regular Texans with children in school may need to get together and sue by class action to stop this movement and its effect on public school teaching.
The TXSBOE's textbook committee doesn't just exhibit ignorance, they exhibit something much worse.
Once such government operations fall under the grip of militant minorities, they are very difficult to dislodge.
This should be a warning to all who care about the good of our nation.
This is a clear sign the nation is crumbling right before our eyes into a partisan dump.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | March 17, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

First, please contact your local (outside of Texas) school board and let them know you aren't excited about the Texas Texts,
Second, please contact your HR department where you work and let them know you aren't looking for anyone from Texas to add to your department,
Third, please plan your vacations and all future business purchases to avoid Texas,
Fourth, ask your legislator to avoid voting for any bill that spends any Federal money in Texas as they apparently plan to secede,
Fifth, ask you legislator to approve any necessary legislaion to assist Texas in seceding,
and SIXTH, search you heart for compassion for those of us stuck in Texas.

Posted by: bgreen2224 | March 17, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Despite not being a fan, I think Chuck Norris’s double-length exclusive column at World Net Daily ("Don't mess with Texas...textbooks") on the issue actually has some very valid points, especially in pointing out America’s Founders’ intent for religion in education.

Here's a sample from his column at

“…conservatives argue that most American history in textbooks basically avoids religion – and thus changes and misrepresents history – and prominent religious scholars are apt to agree with them on that point. Martin Marty, emeritus professor at the University of Chicago, former president of the American Academy of Religion and the American Society of Church History and recognized as one of the country's foremost American religious historians, explained, ‘In American history, religion is all over the place, and wherever it appears, you should tell the story and do it appropriately.’

“The founders' educational philosophy even included teaching the Bible. As Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "To the citizens of Philadelphia: A Plan for Free Schools," on March 28, 1787: ‘Let the children who are sent to those schools be taught to read and write and above all, let both sexes be carefully instructed in the principles and obligations of the Christian religion. This is the most essential part of education.’

“Noah Webster, the ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education,’ stated, ‘In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.’
In 1789, during the same time when the First Amendment was written, then-President George Washington signed into law the Northwest Ordinance, which states, ‘Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.’ Does anyone not know what the term ‘forever’ means? Can any member of the SBOE or any other state board of education be penalized for agreeing with the founders of America?

“Even Thomas Jefferson, while protecting the University of Virginia (chartered in 1819) from the single sectarianism typically connected to other higher academic institutions of his day, wrote about his vision for the university on Dec. 27, 1820: ‘This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error as long as reason is left free to combat it.’"

Seems to me Jefferson would have tolerated both extreme points of view and that our polarizing over issues like religion wouldn' t have been a threat to him IN EDUCATIONAL CIRCLES.

Posted by: funinthesun2010 | March 18, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Does Texas have enough businesses to provide jobs for every graduate for years to come? Voters in Nebraska (or Kansas--I forget which) voted out the anti-evolution part of the school board when graduates began coming back from colleges in other states and reporting that they were being laughed at and had trouble keeping up with their classes because they hadn't been taught the science they needed to know. And in the 1970s Mississippi found that companies would meet with officials to discuss building a plant in Mississippi and then would report back to the governor that they had to drop the plans because their executives refused to send their children to Mississippi schools.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | March 18, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

This is the worst thing involving Texas textbooks since Lee Harvey Oswald.

They are going to do whatever the hell they want to in Texas, but here in America, we should ban any textbook approved by Texas.

Posted by: anticorporatist | March 18, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

It's long past time for school districts to stop getting their texts from a state that has such a low opinion of, and hostility to public education.

If the citizens of Texas want to elect religious bigots to their school board that is their right. I see no reason, however, for anyone else to suffer from that state's ignorance.

Let Texas secede from the U.S. and become the narco-state it so richly deserves to be.

Posted by: sanderling5 | March 18, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

So far all the defenses of Texas' actions have been setting up straw-men (other BOEs & textbook manufacturers make mistakes, why can't we) or are ignoring the mistakes entirely and arguing that they needed to add the religious stuff and therefore (I'm assuming) there just wasn't enough room for the truth. Well they are persistent, I'll give them that. They even offer up a quote from one major Founding Father (George Washington) and a few quotes from much less well-known ones to back up the religious point without actually putting any of them into context, or demonstrating exactly how these "textbooks" manage to achieve this magical balance between explaining history and the myths that supposedly drove the actions.

Both of these defenses are irrelevant to the issue at hand. Texas, in its rush to push a pro-Republican and pro-Christianity agenda on its schoolchildren, has screwed up big time by not only violating the Constitution but also turning the Texas Board of Education into a Propaganda machine. I suppose they think they're just combating the "left-wing bias" that facts tend to have (according to them). Well even if they did (which they don't) how is stooping to your enemies' level any better? This is typical fear-mongering fascist thinking and I hope the court system manages to somehow throw the book at these lunatics.

Sometimes I wonder if Texas should have been annexed in 1846 at all. Seems like they've been a lot more trouble then they're worth, along with most of the rest of the South from time to time, but especially Texas.

Posted by: icemachine79 | March 18, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Sputnik is not spelled with a "c".

Posted by: jlsemrad | March 19, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Furthermore, several posters here have confused Thomas Jefferson with Jefferson Davis to promote their own agendas, and it should be known that the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics in 1992 (Ann Richards was governor). It was a conservative group that discovered the textbook errors.


Posted by: jlsemrad | March 19, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Just because you claim to be a Conservative Christian doesn't make you one. Truth is Texas has a history of persecuting Conservative Christians that don't bow down to the State.

For the record I am an old school fundamental Baptist. There are some things I believe should be taught. For instance you should teach about religion's influence on history, but the school should do so from a neutral viewpoint. You cannot ignore nor diminish Thomas Jefferson since he not only wrote the Declaration of Independence but was also responsible for the real Louisana Purchase. As for the original intent of the separation of church and state. It was to keep the State out of religion and not the other way around. Take a look at the discussion between the Rhode Island Baptists and Jefferson.

As for Jefferson Davis, remember many in the South don't know the Civil War is over. Abraham Lincoln is a swear word and "the South will rise again."

Posted by: mlneale1959 | March 20, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

It takes a bunch of rank amateurs with inflated egos, blinders and a hard-nosed ideological slant to have the audacity to rewrite history, but theat's okay. The Texas Board of Education is up to the task.

Posted by: Baxter24 | March 24, 2010 4:58 AM | Report abuse

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