This post was originally published by Campus Progress.
In the latest chapter of America’s increasingly fraught relationship with Islam, the Texas Board of Education is planning to issue a resolution saying that it won’t accept textbooks that portray Islam in too favorable a light.
What happens in Texas doesn’t stay there. Decisions the Texas Board makes actually have a great influence on the content of textbooks across the country.
The Texas Board made headlines earlier this year after it proposed revisions to its social studies curriculum that would de-emphasize the civil rights movement, paint McCarthyism in a friendlier light and cut Thomas Jefferson out of the curriculum, among other things. Since the state is one of the largest markets for new textbooks, opponents of the Texas Board decisions worried that textbook companies would start tailoring their products to Texas specifications.
At the time, publishing insiders dismissed Texas’s influence over the national textbook market as an overblown "urban myth."
Education Week reported that the Lone Star State’s influence can shift with the market, and that it’s often balanced out by California, another big buyer of textbooks. But that won’t be the case this year—Golden State schools aren’t planning on buying new books due to budget cuts.
The Texas Tribune added that textbook producers tailor their books to local needs on a case-by-case basis, rather than creating one book that will sell in Texas and distributing it nationwide.
"Rather than tailoring history books to Texas, then trying to peddle them nationwide, publishes today will start with a core national narrative and edit to suit the sensitivities and curriculum standards of various states and districts," said David Anderson, an industry lobbyist, former publishing sales executive and Texas Education Agency curriculum director. The irony in the current history wars: The more the state board makes a political circus out of the process, the less likely any of its ideology will seep into books for other states, as the California backlash makes clear.
"The core narrative is very similar" nationally, Anderson said. "If you can customize a book for Texas, and un-customize it for the Midwest — and Texas is controversial — then that’s what you’re going to do."
Even then, it is disconcerting that the civil rights movement might not make the cut for this "core narrative" that they modify based on local needs.
Now Texas wants to ban textbooks that exhibit a "bias against Christianity," which seems to be code for textbooks that describe other religions in detail, or ones that don’t portray Christianity as totally dominant or superior.
According to the New York Times, the proposed resolution takes issue with "past textbooks [that] devoted more lines to Islamic beliefs and practices than to Christianity and spelled out atrocities committed by Christian crusaders while ignoring similar atrocities by Muslim fighters."
Perhaps more lines need to be devoted to Islam because it needs more explanation than the religion that has been dominant in this country for centuries. Recent events suggest that people probably don’t have a great grasp on it, and don’t have much exposure to Muslims in their daily lives. And perhaps Texas could do the rest of us a favor and use textbooks to educate rather than cutting vast portions of American society from history.