"If you're a car salesman and you have a car that has bad ratings that car is not going to sell," says Roy White, the founder of Truth in Texas Textbooks and a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. "That is what is going to happen with these books."
Truth in Texas Textbooks formed last year to shape how climate change and scores of other topics are taught. It has no political or religious affiliation but organizers recruited volunteers through tea-party networks and church groups—as well as teachers associations, Rotary clubs, and other civic organizations—and have accused publishers of creating textbooks with an "anti-Christian" and "anti-American" bias.
Teaching a "controversy" in climate science lines up with public opinion, where there is a sharp divide over the connection between human activity and a changing global climate. But it is sharply at odds with climate scientists, who nearly universally believe the former is driving the latter.
But textbooks are the first conduit between climate science and most young people. The textbooks that the Texas truth group is fighting over are expected to be used by more than 5 million Texas public school students for at least a decade. Texas is also the second-largest market for textbooks behind California, and publishers often peddle best-selling Texas textbooks in other states.
That's not all: The coalition's system of rating textbooks could soon spread far beyond the borders of Texas. White says that activists in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin have already contacted the coalition to learn how they can create their own rating system.
Advocacy groups giving grades to Texas textbooks is not novel: A Christian conservative organization called Educational Research Analysts has been rating textbooks in the state since the 1960s. The group questions scientific evidence for evolution and supports education that promotes abstinence until marriage. It also has ties to the Texas truth coalition: ERA's president, Neal Frey, doled out advice to White as he worked to get Truth in Texas Textbooks off the ground.
But ERA hasn't worked on climate science—and that's a targeted area for Truth in Texas Textbooks.
So far, however, the group has struggled. The coalition faced a setback when the Texas Board of Education voted to adopt new social-studies textbooks for public schools last month. Ahead of the vote, major publishers—including McGraw-Hill and Pearson—stripped out passages that cast doubt on climate change. The revisions followed fierce criticism of the content from groups like the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group that pushed for man-made climate change to be taught in the books, and Climate Parents, an organization dedicated to teaching climate science.
Eighty-nine new social-studies textbooks have now been approved. But school districts have a lot of leeway over exactly which books to buy, a series of decisions that will be made this spring.