What Texas Textbook Battle Reveals About the Culture Wars

Roots in the politics of the 1960s

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Conservatives on the Texas Board of Education have been shocking the nation with a jaw-dropping new list of requirements for textbook manufacturers. According to the new rules, history books written for Texas schools must downplay Darwin's theory of evolution, openly question the Constitution's separation of church and state, and feature Reagan-era conservative activists like Phyllis Schlafly and the Heritage Foundation. The requirements matter outside Texas as textbook makers, wary of writing 50 unique textbooks, tend to produce books that can be sold to as many states as possible. More broadly, how does this fit into the now long-running culture wars that still rage beyond Texan schools?

  • Academia War Comes Home  The Wall Street Journal's Thomas Frank says this is a new front in the culture war opened up to oppose the education front largely "won" by liberals: College-level academia. "I have no desire to excuse academia's failings. Its peer-review system sometimes encourages fads and self-reinforcing groupthink. But at least it demands fairness and careful research. The state's board of education, by contrast, feels entitled to enforce its homemade party line with a rigidity that no comp-lit pinko would dare to dream of."
  • Fighting Liberal History  No less than Chuck Norris asks in Town Hall, "What would America's Founders think about this feud?" Well, they would root for the conservative re-writers, obviously. "Conservatives have been largely the guardians or preservationists of tradition. Progressives have changed curricula content to pacify the politically correct and adopt what they value today and want others to value tomorrow."
  • Conservatives Inviting Backlash  Science blogger Ed Brayton warns, "they may have gone too far with their revisions and demands for changes in textbooks and their actions may result in a backlash against those demands rather than compliance with them. I think the textbook companies may have a very difficult time convincing the authors of their textbooks, most of which are genuine historians, to say some of the things the Texas BOE is demanding that they say."
  • Desperate Last-Ditch Effort To 'Win'  EconoBlogger Rob Horning muses, "These efforts to control textbooks as though that will ensure control over the kids who pretend to read them and teachers who pretend to teach them seem sort of desperate, as though the books were to blame for the waning popularity and unreality of some of their views. To paraphrase Thomas Merton (and also a rebel princess from some movie), the more they tighten their ideological grip, the more students will slip through their fingers."
  • The Expanding Culture War Battle Lines  It's simply taking over everything, writes Salon's Gabriel Winant. "The Texas board seems to imagine that all of human existence has been a static conflict between the forces of Almighty God and the Almighty Dollar on the one hand, and the secular humanist socialists on the other. This is not a tenable proposition."
  • Inevitable With Public School System  Libertarian Jeff Riggenbach explains, "Chalk it up to the unintended consequences — or were they unintended? — of turning schooling into a public utility instead of leaving it in the hands of the market, which is to say, in the hands of individuals." With schools run by political bodies, it was only a matter of time until the schools became out-and-out political themselves.
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