If you didn't know already, Texas has always played a vital role in textbooks used throughout the nation. The reasons for this are economic: Texas is the nation’s second-largest textbook market and one of the few biggies where the state picks what books schools can buy rather than leaving it up to the whims of local districts. This means that publishers that get their books approved can count on millions of dollars in sales.
As a result, the Lone Star State has outsized influence over the reading material used in classrooms nationwide, since publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers. Put simply, publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list.
That's why the Texas Board of Education is a closely-watched body, and why it has been a cause of concern for the past several years. The TBE has been stacked with a bunch of neo-conservatives, most notably a guy named Don McLeroy, who has served on the Board since 1999.
Among the highlights of McLeroy's time on the Texas board are:
In 2008, he objected to including Chinese literature in English classes: "[Y]ou really don't want Chinese books with a bunch of crazy Chinese words in them. Why should you take a child's time trying to learn a word that they'll never ever use again?" He conceded some terms, such as "chow mein," might be useful, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
He said during a 2008 debate over science standards: "Is understanding of evolution 'vital' to the understanding of biology? No."
Last year he instructed curriculum writers to "read the latest on [Joseph] McCarthy — he was basically vindicated."
He described his textbook evaluation process this way to the Washington Monthly: "The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan–he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes."
He explained why minority groups should be thankful to the majority for civil rights:
Finally, McLeroy successfully offered an amendment to U.S. history standards to require students to be able to "describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association." There is no liberal counterpart clause in the current draft of the standards.
The "good news" is that he was defeated in a recent election
Unfortunately, he'll still be serving another year, and the Texas Board will be considering some of his more outlandish proposals. But at least a dose of sanity has returned to the body with his ouster, and bodes well for the future of public school textbooks. (Those who are homeschooled, on the other hand, continue to have a harder time finding scientific accurate textbooks).