Below is the statement of Dr. Jason Robinson of the state textbook commission delivered at the October 23rd meeting of the commission. He was one of the "no" votes, voting against approving the list of social studies text books. I feel that his statement is important enough to be printed in full. I copied this statement from the website of Tennessee Eagle Forum.
Statement of Dr. Jason Robinson:
First of all, let me thank you all for your hard work and dedication in this process. I also want to say that I have a great amount of respect for each of the commissioners seated with me. There is not one person up here who doesn’t want the very best for our students. In addition, I would like to thank Mr. Branch, Ms. Barton, Ms. Shelton, Ms. Jones, and the other folks from the Department of Education. I want to thank you for your support and for not pressuring this commission in any way. You have shown us nothing but respect. Finally, I would like to thank each person in the audience for your dedication to our kids.
For the past several months, we have taken a great amount of time looking at social studies textbooks, listening to concerned citizens, examining reviewer comments, and hearing presentations from textbook companies. And we have researched information on our own.
As one of the newer members of this commission, I had no idea of the responsibilities and weight that I would feel when I was appointed to this panel, but I do not believe it is by accident that we are here. When talking about the responsibility that we have in the textbook adoption process, I was told that we, the commission, make sure that the books cover the state standards. It is not our job to look at biases or inaccuracies but just to decide on a list of textbooks that are standards based. Local school systems ultimately decide whether textbooks are biased and inaccurate. If they don’t like the books, they shouldn’t buy them. The power to select textbooks is truly in their hands.
Teachers also play a big part in what is being taught in the classroom. As a former public school science teacher, I understood that textbooks were simply a source of information. In no way did they direct my instruction. I, as the teacher, had a great amount of influence over the fine details that were covered in my classroom and the way I answered and presented material. Parents also play a big part in the information that children are presented. Over the last two years my wife and I have had several conversations with our high school and middle school aged children regarding inaccurate information that was presented in a classroom. It was information that contradicted the personal beliefs and values we embrace as a family. The information was not contained in a textbook but was nothing more than one teacher’s political and social opinion. It was our job as parents to step up to the plate and correct a wrong.
And we did that.
When I served in the public schools, I had the opportunity to serve on several textbook selection committees for Bradley County Schools. We believed wholeheartedly that if a textbook was on the state’s approved list, it was high quality, unbiased, and accurate. At no time did we ever examine the textbooks to check for those items. Instead, we looked at how colorful the photos were, what kind of technology perks we would be given, and how many consumable items would be included with the adoptions. I know for a fact that many educators have no idea that textbooks on the state’s approved list may still contain details that may be considered inaccurate or biased. How did some materials make their way into the classrooms the last adoption cycle? They made their way into those classrooms because that school system purchased the books…..the books that educators believed contained accurate unbiased information because they were on the approved list.
As a member of this commission, I believe it is my job to do all I can to make sure that every single child from every different background, religion, ethnicity, or socio-economic standing, has the highest quality textbooks available to them. We have been presented some books that contained inaccurate information, vulgar language, inappropriate cartoons, possible social and political agendas, and potential religious bias. We have been told that certain scenarios are acceptable because there were in advanced level textbooks. In my opinion, that is ridiculous. I believe the textbooks should cover the standards. There is one standard that I believe some of the textbook companies have forgotten and that is a standard of excellence that every child in our state deserves, no matter what their belief or background is. My opinion is personal. I am a father, an educator, and a member of this commission.
I spent a great amount of time looking through reviewer comments, public comments, emails, and research, and I couldn’t believe how many corrections had to be requested from certain textbook companies. If they had done it right the first time, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in today. Yes, they have corrected some of the information requested, but they shouldn’t have had to, definitely not to the degree necessary. If there are any textbook companies represented in this room today, I would be embarrassed and ashamed by the concerns some of your companies have caused. If the individuals who wrote the material contained in some of your textbooks are the best you could find, you probably ought to start from scratch and hire some new writers. Just present accurate facts, and let the students and families form their own opinions. They don’t need your help, just the facts. That, in my opinion, is an education.
As a commission member I want you to know that my decision is not based on public opinion or the opinion of any individual, political, or government entity. It is an educated opinion that I have made by looking at the details contained in the textbooks and from all of the information presented. The name says it all - APPROVED TEXTBOOK LIST. For me to agree says I personally approve of every textbook we have been presented, I cannot do that, and I believe our elected officials with whom we met this summer at Legislative Plaza on both sides of the aisle would agree with me. I could not with a clear conscience agree to place some of the materials presented to us in the hands of my children or any other student in our state.
For that reason, I will be voting “NO” to the list as it is presented.