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Interview with U of Texas Professor on Texas Board of Education's Textbook's Content Selection Process

Aired July 9, 2003 - 19:34   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES, live from Los Angeles. A lot more stories to report in the next hour.
If you want to sell school books across the nation you don't tailor them to Rhode Island, such a small state, you tailor them to the big states California and Texas. And Texas, it so happens, chooses its textbooks with a text books, well, with a Texas size dollop of public input. As CNN's Ed Lavandera reports that means sometimes the Bible takes precedent over science and not just Texas but in school books around the country.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Inside this Austin, Texas, board room the battle to mold the minds of young students is raging and special interest groups are sharpening their swords.

What organization do you represent?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I represent Texas Eagle Forum.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm with the National Center for Science Education.

LAVANDERA: These groups and others are here because the 15 members of the Texas Board of Education have enormous influence over what students nationwide read in their textbooks. Texas has a yearly textbook budget of $344 million. California and Florida are also big spenders.

JOE BILL WATKINS, ASS. OF AMERICAN PUBLISHERS: Most publishers who get on this list essentially use what's approved here as their national product.

LAVANDERA: Today, Texas educators are debating which biology books will be used in the future and that ignites the debate of evolution versus creationism, or intelligent design as some now call it.

JOHN COURAGE, HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER: If we put intelligent design into our biology textbooks based on the misrepresentation of real scientific fact, and the conjecture that its proponents rely on, then we may as well add the study of flying saucers and aliens from outer space to our biology and physics book. LAVANDERA: Evolution is the theory that all living things have a common ancestor but others say that doesn't explain the beginning of life. They support the idea of intelligent design, that an intelligent being created life on Earth. Supporters of this side want more space textbooks.

RAYMOND BOHLIN, DISCOVERY INSTITUTE: Every theory has its weaknesses, has it's problems, and evolution seems to be the one theory in the textbooks that just isn't treated that way. We're just not told where its weaknesses and problem are.

LAVANDERA: The textbook battle isn't just over biology books. Virtually every subject is controversial now. Should women be portrayed as working mothers or stay at home mothers. How and when do you teach sex education. No matter where you live the debates being heard in Texas will go a long way in determining what students will be learning in two years. Ed Lavandera, CNN, Austin, Texas.


COOPER: Well, it's a fascinating topic. Joining me for more discussion about it is University of Texas Professor of law and philosophy, Brian Leiter, the Texas Board of Education declined our invitation to appear on the program.

Brian, what is the concern here? I mean there are plenty who say look, this opens the process up, it makes it a more Democratic process to have people, the public consulted. What's wrong with it?

BRIAN LEITER, PROFESSOR, LAW, PHILOSOPHY U OF TEXAS: I think there were two questions here. One is whether we ought to have a Democratic process when what's at issue is choosing textbooks that are supposed to convey the expert state of knowledge about science, about history, about economics, to our students.

COOPER: So on the democracy topic you say democracy is all well and good, but for some specialized topics it's not needed not a good idea?

LEITER: Well think of it this way, the University of Texas is fortunate to have great law schools and great medical schools but we don't think that the curriculum of those schools should be set by popular election. Some require expert knowledge and it's experts, those who are qualified, who are to vet (ph) the textbooks and design the curriculum are to used in our schools.

COOPER: There is the other question which is, assuming you buy the democracy argument, whether really whatever you believe about it, is this process as it is now, is it really Democratic?

LEITER: Right. And that's the other question. Even if we wanted to have a Democratic process, it's very clear that what we have right now is a farce. The State Board of Education meets two or three times a year in the state of 18 million people. Most people have no idea who their representative on the State Board of Education are. The only people who turn out for these hearings are the organized special interest groups, who are bent on political censorship in getting these books to reflect their political point of view.

COOPER: OK, Brian, we got a couple examples we want to put on the screen to show the audience what we're talking about. This one is from a change made last year in a 6th grade social studies book. Now initially the text read, "Glaciers formed the Great Lakes millions of years ago". Then it was edited to read, "Glaciers formed the Great Lakes in the distant past." Why was "millions of years" switched to "distant past"?

LEITER: Well, I believe it was deleted because it conflicts with Biblical timelines. Even though the evidence that the glaciers formed millions of years ago is undisputed by scientists.

COOPER: OK, let's show another example here. This is -- the publisher agreed to delete this line, "Christians would later accept slavery in other contexts" this was from Prentice Hall Publisher. Now I guess someone argued this is a softening of the history on slavery?

LEITER: Well, I think the objection to it was actually different, which is that it reflected badly on Christianity. Though, the unfortunate fact about the history of the western world, is that many Christian nations accepted slavery for a very long time. President Bush has recently been talking about that unfortunate and shameful aspect of our past.

COOPER: There's one other we're going to show. A publisher agreed to delete the following line, "al Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden told his followers that it was Muslim's duty to kill Americans. No idea could be further from Muslim teachings the Quran, Islam's holiest book, tells soldiers to show civilians kindness and deal with them justly". Can you explain that one?

LEITER: I believe religious conservatives -- Christian conservatives-- I should say, felt that this portrayed Islam in too favorable a light. Again it's very ironic since President Bush has emphasized that our pursuit of terrorists has nothing to do with the war on Islam, but here in Texas some groups feel we shouldn't portray Islam in a favorable light at all.

COOPER: All right. Brian Leiter, appreciate you coming in and talking about this. I think a lot of people probably don't know much about this process. It's kind of an arcane one, but an important one to know about. Appreciate you talking about it.

LEITER: Thank you.


Education's Textbook's Content Selection Process>

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