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The End Is Finally in Sight for the Texas Textbook Battle (At Least for Now)

It seemed like it would never happen, but it looks like the Texas Textbook Battle: Social Studies Edition is finally wrapping up.

The State Board of Education is holding a public meeting today at 1 p.m. in Austin to allow people to submit their comments on the controversial textbooks before the board has its first unofficial vote on whether to approve the books. The initial versions of the textbooks -- written based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, aka the wackobird guidelines created by the SBOE in 2010 that embraced creationist views and a whole lot of relying on the Bible -- were offered up back in September, but had some problems with little things like "truth" and "fact" and stuff like that, according to both education and science groups.

For those who have already forgotten, or blocked it all out, these are the textbooks that initially claimed that Moses basically invented democracy, textbooks that used the word "negro" in a contemporary setting, and explained the "gay liberation movement" as an upshot of social upheaval. The textbooks also claimed that all international terrorism is due Islamic fundamentalists jihading it up, and minimized the role that slavery played in the Civil War. The books also claimed that climate change science was something still being debated by the scientific community, that it was unclear if humans have any impact on the climate at all, in addition to a whole bunch of other stuff that is not, strictly speaking, real.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, this whole thing sparked outrage in education groups in general and in science groups in particular. Since Texas has one of the largest public school systems in the country, textbook publishers tend to write their books to fit the stringent and sometimes, you know, nutty standards of the Lone Star State, as dictated by the SBOE. Subsequently, these books end up being the standard for the rest of the country. (See where we're going with this?)

Publishers revised the textbooks some after that initial outcry about Moses and a view of the world and history that we can charitably call politically skewed. However, publishers hung on a lot longer on the climate change bit. The smaller outfits gave in and agreed to alter their text, but Pearson, the largest textbook publishing company in the world, only agreed to rework the material to reflect a more balanced view of climate change last week. McGraw-Hill, the second largest textbook publisher, agreed to make some changes on the climate change issue on Monday.

The board will hold a preliminary vote today with the final vote scheduled to take place Friday. They can technically only shoot down a textbook for factual errors, but the Republican-dominated board, which has been at the center of the culture wars in recent years, has shown itself to have, shall we say, an interesting view of what constitutes historical and scientific fact. The final textbook product, slated to be in student hands by the start of the 2015-16 school year, ought to be interesting.

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