Texas Approves New Textbooks Without Reading the Changes

Versions of the textbooks approved in Texas came under months of attack for their politics. As of Friday evening, it is unclear how much content had been changed in the approved versions. Danny Nicholson/Flickr/Creative Commons

A Texas State Board of Education panel approved 89 new history and social studies textbooks for use Friday, after adopting "hundreds of pages" in last-minute changes, the Texas Tribune reports. Some board members told the Tribune that they voted on the books without getting the chance to read the changes.

"I did not have an opportunity to read this," Ruben Cortez, Jr., a board member representing Brownsville, Texas, told the Tribune, gesturing to a pile of pages containing updates.

A proposal to delay the vote to give the board more time to read the changes was defeated.

The textbooks, which passed the board by 10 votes by Republicans to 5 votes by Democrats, have been the focus of controversy for months. Several textbooks for students from kindergarten through grade 12 contained false information regarding climate change and ozone depletion. One of the textbooks were written to include the sentiments of the Heartland Institute, a conservative advocacy group funded in part by the Koch brothers, which denies the existence of human-driven climate change.

"Scientists agree that Earth's climate is changing. They do not agree on what is causing the change," the Heartland Institute passage reads. "Scientists who study the issue say it is impossible to tell if the recent small warming trend is natural, a continuation of the planet's recovery from the more recent 'Little Ice Age,' or unnatural, the result of human greenhouse gas emissions."

In the proposed version available in September, students were asked to compare the Heartland passage, which was not written by scientists, to findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which compiled the findings of thousands of scientists. The students were asked to conclude from the passages whether or not they thought global warming was a result of human activity.

It isn't clear at this time if the passages that sparked controversy were altered in the versions of the textbooks that were approved Friday. Brian Belardi, spokesperson for McGraw-Hill Publishing, the company that wrote the textbooks that included these passages, told Newsweek that all of their submissions were accepted by Friday's board vote, but that the company is not providing further information at this time.

Other textbooks up for consideration were criticized by academics for allegedly exaggerating the role Moses played in influencing American democracy, and for negatively portraying Muslims, The New York Times reports. Six textbooks were rejected and a publisher withdrew a seventh.

"I'm comfortable enough that these books have been reviewed by many, many people. They are not perfect, they never will be," the board's vice chairman Thomas Ratliff is quoted by the Times as saying.

Activist group Texas Freedom Network (TFN), which helped bring national attention to the textbook debate, claimed in a statement that "climate-change denial," a "biased depiction of affirmative action,""slavery identified as primary cause of Civil War," and "inflammatory content stereotyping Muslims" were all removed from the textbooks that the board voted to adopt, though Newsweek could not independently verify the claims at this time.

"We got important corrections in the textbooks, but I don't want to imply that the new books are perfect," TFN President Kathy Miller said in a statement. "Many include passages that suggest Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and that the roots of democracy can be found in the Old Testament. The board and publishers rebuffed repeated efforts to correct those inaccuracies."

More than 5 million public school students will begin using the textbooks next fall, and they will remain in use for at least a decade, the Times reports.