Naked City


The Virgin West

You might not realize it, but those poor tycoons in the Texas oil patch feel mighty insulted by their treatment at the hands of school textbook writers. At least that's what state Board of Education Chairwoman Grace Shore told the Statesman last year. "The oil and gas industry should be consulted," said Shore. "We always get a raw deal." (In addition to her public service, Shore is co-owner of TEC Well Service in Longview, apparently a fount of educational policy.) Her remark was in connection with the board's review last year of "environmental science" textbooks, which were carefully inspected to make certain as little as possible of either environmentalism or science made it in to the school districts' available choices. Among the books accepted for the use of school districts was one sponsored in part by a consortium of mining companies. No doubt it was eloquent on the subject of global warming.

This summer promises to be even more entertaining, when the state's finest minds gather together to determine just what sort of "facts" will be allowed into the heads of Texas schoolchildren under the covers of social studies textbooks. The social studies review, covering subjects from history through economics to sociology, is inevitably a cultural battleground, and the definitions of "factual" correctness -- the only area now under the official purview of the SBOE -- will expand indefinitely. In The New York Times last week, Shore objected to one book, since withdrawn, that mentioned widespread prostitution in 19th-century cattle towns. "I doubt it, but ... is that something that should be emphasized?" asked Shore. "Is that an important historical fact?"

Tuesday the Texas Freedom Network announced its "I Object!" to Censorship Campaign, a call to "mainstream Texans" to get more directly involved in the book review process. "We think children should have access to the fullest education possible," announced TFN Executive Director Samantha Smoot at the group's West Austin office. She was followed by several other representatives of the statewide organization -- including Austin parent Phil Durst, who said wryly, "My children assure me that their textbooks can be made long and boring enough without the Religious Right's dogma on evolution, gender roles, and their view of Christianity." TFN monitors the influence of the Religious Right on education, but Smoot emphasized that the 9,000-member organization includes many deeply religious people who object to dogmatic teaching of history.

The review process is already in progress, with public hearings to begin July 17 at the Texas Education Agency offices. The deadline to register for the first hearing was July 10, but there are additional hearings Aug. 23, Sept. 11, and Nov. 14 (also the date of final adoption). For more information, see www.tfn.org.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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