Remember the Houston-area mom who sparked worldwide outrage by pointing out the description of slaves in her son’s geography textbook as “workers from Africa”? The really, really bad press that followed the viral Facebook photograph and video that mother Roni Dean-Burren posted was enough to make the Texas State Board of Education reconsider its textbook-review process. Sort of. Except not really.
OK, granted, at the same meeting on Wednesday, the board did approve increasing public participation in the textbook-review process and holding publishers accountable for errors. (McGraw-Hill’s already on the hook for stickering the offensive passage in the 800-page geography textbook, or replacing the book altogether.)
But in a close 8–7 vote, the Texas State Board of Education rejected a proposed amendment that would’ve empowered it to create an expert panel of academics charged with catching the type of embarrassing inaccuracies and omissions that keep getting the state in so much trouble. (See also: the “pro-Muslim” bias, the influence of the Ten Commandments on the composition of the Constitution, and of course the “side issue” of slavery in the Civil War.)
Currently, Texas textbook review panels consist of a motley brigade of citizen volunteers, some of whom are teachers, some of whom are random car salesmen-cum-pastors seeking elected office. And, importantly, this group’s primary task is not to fact-check but to make sure that the textbooks are aligned with Texas curriculum.
So what’s wrong with getting, you know, actual experts culled “solely from Texas institutions of higher education” to review the textbooks? Well, for one thing, per a Texas Tribune report on the vote, there are often "philosophical differences" between the conservative board and those professorial types. One opponent of the proposal said that bringing academics into the process would be an insult to the volunteer reviewers, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News: “I don’t want to send a message that … we feel the college people are more important,” board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller said. “I don’t want that.”
Another member, Marty Rowley, believed that the tweaks already approved on Wednesday—like making it easier for the public to participate in the review process—would make the process “stronger and better and more expert-laden.”
Thomas Ratliff, the Republican board member who introduced the proposal to consult academics, acknowledged these fears.* From the Dallas Morning News report: “I know that people are concerned about pointy-headed liberals in the ivory tower making our process … worse.” But, he went on, “Why wouldn’t we reach out to them and say let’s make sure these books are as factually accurate as possible?”
Because “college people” are bad and car salesmen/pastors are good, obviously.
*Correction, Nov. 19, 2015: This post originally misspelled board member Thomas Ratliff’s last name.