Health Education Textbook Adoption in Texas: A Lesson in Politics and Morality

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Textbooks are often a core element of curricula and delivery of classroom instruction and have long been a source of controversy. The textbook adoption process has become less about content and more about political/cultural pressure. Special-interest groups from the right and left exert enormous influence on textbook content through bias and "sensitivity" guidelines and "review" processes. Textbooks are now often judged not by their style, content, or effectiveness, but by the way they live up to such guidelines. Texas is the second largest textbook market in the country, behind only California. This paper examines the controversies behind, and the lessons to be learned from, the textbook adoption process in Texas. Recent history has demonstrated that health textbook content decisions are often not based in science or pedagogical best practices. Health educators must be proactive in recognizing this trend and work at the state and local levels to ensure that students have access to scientifically accurate, age-appropriate information that can help prepare them for life in the twenty-first century.

INTRODUCTION

Textbooks are often a core element of curricula and delivery of classroom instruction. It is important that health educators, administrators, parents, and the public at large have an understanding of how textbooks are written and, ultimately, how they end up in classrooms.

Textbook content has long been a source of controversy. Whether the subject is science, history, or health education, what students read in school has become a source of heated debate, censorship, and moral and political posturing. At the core of these problems is the question of whether textbooks should represent reality or how we wish the world were.

Since textbooks are a core part of curricula, one might assume that they are conceived, researched, written, and published as important contributions to advancing knowledge. In fact, most of these books fall far short of their key role in the educational process. (1)

For example, censorship has been a staple of textbook publishing since the Civil War. During Reconstruction, former Confederate states issued guidelines for school materials that reflected their version of the Civil War. It was felt that such guidelines were necessary because most publishing houses of the time had their headquarters in the North. Northern publishers complied, publishing separate textbooks for schools in the South and North. For decades, Southern textbooks referred to the Civil War as "the War for Southern Independence" or the "War between the States." Interestingly, nearly 150 years later, most centralized textbook adoption states--that is, states with a centralized process rather than vs. "local" control by local school districts--are still located in the South and West. (2)

Most people are not aware of specific content in textbooks and appear to show little concern for what is included. The majority of people believe textbooks used in public schools are up-to-date, accurate, and useful. (3) The conventional wisdom is that scholars synthesize and distill centuries of information into learned and well-written texts, which publishers first review for accuracy and currency, then field-test to see whether the books successfully engage students and increase student achievement. (2)

The reality is that textbooks are put together by teams of writers from "development houses" known in the elementary-high school publishing world as "chop shops." Publishers often focus on clearing textbooks of any references that adoption panels in Texas and California might object to, while at the same time scrambling to add state-endorsed keywords, phrases, and visual aids to ensure their spots on the adoption lists of those states. In adoption states, teachers generally do not pick textbooks; if they do, the book is from a short list of survivors of the adoption process. …