In Tennessee all agencies of state government "sunset" or go out of business unless periodically renewed by the State Legislature. Normally this is a pretty short and routine process and agencies are routinely reauthorized. Yesterday's meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee to consider the fate of the Tennessee Textbook Commission was different. Parents and political activist showed up and argued that the process of selecting textbook which may be used in Tennessee's public Schools is flawed and should be changed.
There has long been concern about what many view as a liberal bias in textbooks. This concern picked up steam recently in Williamson County over a textbook that activist claimed was biased against Israel and equated Israeli self defence with Palestinian terrorism. The textbook in question was A Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography, used in a human geography class, an elective in an Advanced Placement course. The specific complaint was a passage that asked students this question: “If a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?”
The protest opposing this textbook was led by Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who heads a Christian Zionist group called Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. She is best know for leading the opposition to the building of a Mosque in Murfreesboro.
The concern expressed by parents at yesterday's Joint Government Operations Committee meeting however went way beyond concern that text books were biased in favor of Muslims. There was concern that textbooks often show a liberal bais. One Williamson County parent, Hannah Tiblier, said, "There was a section in the social studies book about women in modern day politics - not one word about Condoleezza Rice. It was very swayed toward people with a certain ideology."
I for one would not join Cardoza-Moore in a protest. I, unlike Cordoza-Moore, believe the First Amendment also applies to Muslims and I think the controversial question in a Williamson County textbook quoted above was probably not inappropriate for high school seniors in an advanced placement course who will soon be in college. I don't, however, doubt that there is liberal bias reflected in text books. Since academia is dominated by those with a liberal bias, I think it is to be expected that that bias would find its way into textbooks. I think it is healthy that more scrutiny be given to the content of textbooks used in our public schools and the process used in selecting those textbooks. The Textbook Commission was only renewed for one year and state legislature will continue to study the issue.
To read more about this issue and yesterday's meeting see the following reports:
News Channel 4, Parents, activists push TN lawmakers for change in textbooks.
The City Paper, State lawmakers consider tweaking how panel reviews textbooks
To view the proceedings of the Joint Government Operations Committee meeting follow this link: http://tnga.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=239&clip_id=7939. The meeting is three and half hours long. To view the portion concerning the Textbook Commisstion jump to 1:12:35 in the video. At 2:07:05, Ms Cardoza-Moore testifies. She offers, what I think are some valid examples of bais. At 2:44:55, Ms Julie West, President of Parents for Truth in Education offers even more examples of bias, included a degrogatory description of capitalism, and praise for China's one-child policy. One thing that is clear from the committee hearing testimony is that it would almost be impossible for reviewers to actually read and adequately analyze each of the books they are charged with reveiwing in the amount of time allotted. Also, there are too view bidders submitting books and publishers are rushed to produce books that align with the state outcome testing standards.