UT professors petition new state-approved textbooks

Christina Noriega

The State Board of Education approved new textbooks for the state’s 5 million public school students last week, but some University professors have challenged passages in the textbooks that claim Judeo-Christian traditions influenced the nation’s founding.

The board approved 89 educational materials that will be used by Texas public school students for the next 10 years, starting next fall. The final 10-5 vote followed months of public debate over the factual accuracy of the textbooks.

At a board meeting Tuesday, Jennifer Graber, religious studies associate professor, presented a petition to major textbook publishers signed by 53 history, political science and religious studies scholars from across the nation, including six University professors. The petition stated the social studies textbooks proposed for state approval “exaggerate and even invent claims about the influence of Moses and ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’” in the creation of the Constitution.

“These and similar passages mislead students about the nature of the religious influences on our founding and directly contradict scholarly consensus in our fields,” the petition said.

Classics professor Joseph Carter signed the petition to protest the representation of the Founding Fathers in the textbooks.

“One of the things the Founding Fathers stood for very firmly was the separation of church and state,” Carter said. “The members of the school boards are trying to put the church into public education where it does not belong.”

According to state law, textbook publishers must meet state curriculum standards for state approval, including one that requires textbooks to “identify major intellectual, philosophical, political, and religious traditions that informed the American founding, including Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law).”

In response to the petition, textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education issued a response, stating its books were “factually accurate” and “supported by a substantial body of scholarship.”

“We acknowledge that this topic in American constitutional history is not without controversy and disagreement, and that the evidence in some cases is textual and inferential, but as there is an established scholarly basis for the text’s statements, and TEKS 1B requires educational materials to cover it, MHE believes the text should include this brief summary statement,” McGraw-Hill Education said in a statement.

Roy White, chairman of the nonprofit Truth in Texas Textbooks, said he supported an open debate about the textbooks’ content but disagreed with the petition’s critique.

“Many of the Founding Fathers very clearly identify their relationship with God and believing in that higher power,” White said. “People may disagree with that but disagreeing with the facts doesn’t deny those facts.”