Some conservatives in the Tennessee Legislature are looking to change the way the state approves its public school textbooks.
Amidst recent complaints from parents of liberal and anti-semitic bias in school books, a Joint Government Operations Subcommittee voted Wednesday to effectively put the state’s Textbook Commision on notice, giving them one year to address concerns and propose solutions or face being dissolved in favor of another system.
The Education, Health & General Welfare Subcommittee periodically evaluates certain government entities, including the textbook board, and makes recommendations to either extend or scrap them.
During the subcommittee meeting, Wednesday, members of the State Textbook Commission, which includes educators and administrators, stressed to lawmakers that they evaluate books to make sure they meet educational benchmarks and put out a list of approved options but that school districts make the final purchasing decisions. Members of the Commission estimated that public school districts spend roughly $66 million annually on books in Tennessee.
It was the testimony from members of the public, however, that appeared to have the most impact on committee members’ thinking. Several parents spoke heatedly about what they say is an agenda, present in certain textbooks, that undermines Judeo-Christian and capitalist principles.
Julie West of the group Parents for Truth in Education quoted passages from social studies books that she argued glorified the communist ideologies of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a Christian Zionist activist with the group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations raced through several examples of what she sees as anti-semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric that condones radical Islam and terrorism.
Speaking to reporters following her testimony, Moore questioned the efficacy of the Textbook Commission’s approval process and called for an overhaul of the system.
“We are not wanting our way of life to be jeopardized because of the content that’s provided in this curriculum,” Moor said. “What worldview are [textbooks] being vetted from? Parents from Williamson County and across the state of Tennessee want to know because it doesn’t represent our values.”
Conservatives on the subcommittee emphasized that they didn’t believe the textbook board itself was responsible for perpetuating a bias, suggesting instead that commission in its current form simply didn’t have the resources to do the sort of value-based reviewing that they deemed necessary.
Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, one of the prime legislators raising the textbook issue, said he sees increased local control and parental involvement in decision-making as the best solution.
“We have to figure out a way so that the locals can reject curriculum that they find biased or not factual,” the Franklin lawmaker told reporters.
Asked where such bias was coming from, Casada said he thought that larger publishing companies that tend to dominate the market are usually based in more liberal parts of the country.
“Most of this is from the large textbooks that are predominantly Eastern Seaboard-based or California-based and they bring their own bias and that’s what we’re being exposed to in Tennessee,” Casada said.
Any final changes to the way the state approves textbooks would ultimately have to come in the form of legislation and pass through the entire general assembly.