A Texan Education

Jun 17 2012 @ 6:05pm

Gail Collins examines the impact of Texas on the writing of high school textbooks in the United States:

Ever since the 1960s, the selection of schoolbooks in Texas has been a target for the religious right, which worried that schoolchildren were being indoctrinated in godless secularism, and political conservatives who felt that their kids were being given way too much propaganda about the positive aspects of the federal government. Mel Gabler, an oil company clerk, and his wife, Norma, who began their textbook crusade at their kitchen table, were the leaders of the first wave. They brought their supporters to State Board of Education meetings, unrolling their “scroll of shame,” which listed objections they had to the content of the current reading material. At times, the scroll was fifty-four feet long. Products of the Texas school system have the Gablers to thank for the fact that at one point the New Deal was axed from the timeline of significant events in American history.

Why does Texas have such an outsized influence?

Texas originally acquired its power over the nation’s textbook supply because it paid 100 percent of the cost of all public school textbooks, as long as the books in question came from a very short list of board-approved options. The selection process “was grueling and tension-filled,” said Julie McGee, who worked at high levels in several publishing houses before her retirement. “If you didn’t get listed by the state, you got nothing.” On the other side of the coin, David Anderson, who once sold textbooks in the state, said that if a book made the list, even a fairly mediocre salesperson could count on doing pretty well. The books on the Texas list were likely to be mass-produced by the publisher in anticipation of those sales, so other states liked to buy them and take advantage of the economies of scale.

An earlier look at Collins' new book on Texas here.