By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The good news, according to the Texas Freedom Network, is that more people than ever paid attention to the debate over school social studies textbooks that recently concluded before the State Board of Education, thus dampening the influence of small numbers of religious zealots.
That means that the book of Genesis will not be a standard text for public school students--at least not yet.
"I think we've certainly gained some ground...Publishers were able to hear from other voices," says Ashley McIlvain, political director for the TFN, a watchdog group that describes itself as "a mainstream voice to counter the religious right."
The group mobilized left- and center-leaning Texans to counter the weight of religious and "pro-family" groups that want the state's textbooks to reflect views that are more Christian, more traditional.
OK, so maybe no one is saying that textbooks necessarily need to be whiter, but the TFN noted several dubious changes that publishers made to books to meet complaints from conservative groups. The alterations included deleting the sentence "Christians would later accept slavery in other contexts" because of complaints that the discussions of slavery were too negative, anti-Christian and laid too much blame on the United States, according to the TFN.
Well, why not? Why dwell on the negative aspects of slavery when you can accentuate the positive? Hey, all those slaves were originally counted as three-fifths of a white man in the Constitution, plus they got free room and board in the good ol' U.S. of A. We don't ask for gratitude, but give the white man a break, why don't you? Sixty percent human is still pretty darn good.
Other changes detailed by the TFN promoted Christianity and deleted positive references to Islam. (Religious propaganda is bad unless it's your religion.) Publishers also softened references about the damage from acid rain and global warming and altered mentions of the earth being millions of years old. "Really old," "way back when" and "older than Mick Jagger" are OK, since they don't conflict with creationists' cosmology--modern science and the physics of carbon dating be damned. Literally.
Still McIlvain sounded pretty chipper when Buzz spoke with her. In the past, social conservatives have managed such feats as winning the removal of a photo of a woman carrying a briefcase from a health text because it opposed traditional family values.
The fight continues next year, when the board of education is scheduled to examine biology texts, McIlvain says. Look for a bruising battle over anatomy texts that dare suggest that men and women have the same number of ribs.