Thursday, November 21, 2013

Textbook Publishers Respond to Texas School Board: "Up yours!"

There are a lot of myths surrounding the influence of the Texas Board of Education on the content of biology textbooks. Most people seem to think that major publishers have watered down or eliminated evolution in response to pressure from the Texas board. There's very little evidence to support that claim.

In any case, the situation has changed as reported by Josh Rosenau on the NCSE website [What’s the Future of Texas Textbook Battles?].
The adoption process ending this week will be the first science textbook adoption in a decade. Creationists on the board opened the door to abuses with the standards they passed in 2009, and lame duck board members after the 2012 elections snuck in ideologically-driven textbook reviewers. This summer, these reviewers attacked evolution and climate change in biology textbooks, looking to influence publishers and the board. The hope was that the board’s influence over purchasing decisions would be powerful enough to compel publishers to undercut the science.

But publishers are stronger now. A 2011 law (passed in response to the absurd process in 2009 and 2010) allows local districts to buy any book they want, whether or not it’s on the board’s approved list. Districts are still going to prefer an approved textbook, but if the board goes too far, local districts can opt for a book not on the list, which means the publishers can walk away from the adoption process rather than weaken their textbooks. This science standards adoption is the first under the new law, a test case for battles to come (especially next year’s social studies textbook adoption).

So far, the publishers are standing strong. Creationists pushed them to water down evolution coverage, but they seem to be finding ways around the reviewers’ suggestions. As Ron Wetherington (who won a Friend of Darwin Award from NCSE in honor of his work on the 2009 standards) told the Dallas Observer "I reviewed the publisher’s response to this. In this particular case, the publisher said, ‘Up yours, we’re not going to change anything.’" We don’t yet know whether the state education agency will accept that response and recommend these textbooks for adoption.
Here's the view from TFN Insider [Important News: Publishers Are Resisting Pressure to Dumb Down Their Biology Textbooks for Texas].
We have now had our first look at changes publishers have submitted in response to objections — many of them attacks on evolution and climate change science — raised by official state review teams evaluating new science textbooks for Texas. And we have very encouraging news:

All 14 publishers are refusing to water down or compromise instruction on evolution and climate change in their proposed new high school biology textbooks.

These publishers deserve our thanks for standing up to pressure from right-wing politicians and activists working to corrupt the science in our children’s textbooks.
Contrast this with the question asked by Paul Waldman a few months ago [The Missing Piece in Coverage of Texas Evolution Controversies].
So here's the missing piece: what about the textbook companies? When this issue is discussed, the publishers are talked about as if they have no agency, no ability to affect the outcome of these events. But they're morally culpable for participating in these farces. If they wanted, they could stand up to the state of Texas. So how can the people who work at a publisher in good conscience agree to write a biology textbook that treats evolution as a wild, unsupported idea? What if the Texas Board of Education demanded that their books discuss the "controversy" about whether the Earth travels around the sun or vice-versa, or the "controversy" about whether earthquakes happen because the turtle on whose back the world sits is scratching an itch, or the "controversy" about whether stars are actually faeries winking at us from up in the sky? Would the publishers say, "OK, if that's what you want, we'll write it and print it"? Someone should ask them where they draw the line on their integrity.
This was gleefully cross-posted to Jerry Coyne's blog website [Textbooks and Texas] where his sycophants jumped all over me for suggesting that publishers were not actually modifying their textbooks in any significant way.

Here's an excerpt from Jerry Coyne's latest post [Creationism on life support at the Texas Board of Education].
This week the Texas Board of Education will consider which biology texts to “recommend” for Texas public-school students. I say “recommend” rather than “adopt” because the rules have changed. The list of approved books, from which all school districts were once required to choose, is now gone, and the Board can only recommend books. Texas school districts can now choose whichever books they want to use, including material from the Internet. That’s a huge bonus to publishers, who used to have to rewrite many of their biology and history books so they’d be acceptable to Texas, largely purging them of evolution and giving a more conservative point of view on American history. Now they won’t have to do that, and publishers are beginning to resist such changes anyway. If all the publishers resisted, Texas wouldn’t have any books to buy!
I still think it's misleading to say that publishers "used to have to rewrite many of their biology ... books so they’d be acceptable to Texas, largely purging them of evolution." I've got copies of Miller & Levine's biology textbooks, for example, and they cover evolution quite well. I could be wrong but I don't think the Texas Board of Education ever rejected a biology textbook. They were all on the list of "approved" textbooks even though they covered evolution.

1 comment :

  1. Note the following language in Rosenau's article:

    But publishers are stronger now. A 2011 law (passed in response to the absurd process in 2009 and 2010) allows local districts to buy any book they want, whether or not it’s on the board’s approved list.

    The fact is that prior to the rule change, the creationists on the Texas School Board had an inordinate influence on textbook publishers because a textbook had to be approved by it in order for it to be used in a Texas classroom. According to one of the books written on the Dover trial, the Miller and Levine textbook at that time had a somewhat watered down chapter on evolution.