Last night I happened to catch part of a documentary film on PBS entitled “The Revisionaries.” It was really scary. It showed how our children’s textbooks are created. It was a little like finding out about how they make sausages. You kind of wish you didn’t really know. The film focused on the Texas State Board of Education. Textbooks that are adopted by Texas tend to be adopted in other states as well, so the influence of this board is significant and nationwide. The focus of the documentary was on the efforts of one member of the board, a man named Don McLeroy, to essentially impose his own Christian belief system on the material being put into the textbooks. McLeroy believes that the world is less than 10,000 years old and that dinosaurs existed at the same time as humans. And this guy had an influence on what goes into science textbooks!
But this wasn’t the scariest part of the film to me. What really upset me was seeing this board take segments of the textbooks in science and social studies and vote on whether or include or exclude the material. There was an electronic board on the wall that recorded the ”ayes” and ”nays” for each new thing they were considering putting into a textbook. It alarms me that a few people are in charge of determining what a large number of students learn in our schools. These kids are tested on this material, and if they don’t do well on the tests, then there are serious consequences (like not graduating). You would hope that the members of the board would be experts in each content field, and a few of them were, but many of the board members had religious and political biases that colored what they decided to put in and leave out of these textbooks.
Actually, what occurred to me while watching this documentary was that we shouldn’t require or even use textbooks at all in classrooms, but rather require the viewing of this documentary, so our students can have first hand knowledge of how their education is being manipulated by a few biased people. What is education about anyway? Is it to force-feed doctored information into the minds of youth? Or is it to help kids think for themselves?