Suzanne Fields

Texas is big. Everybody knows that. Texans, who boast about their diversity and productivity, are usually big, too. Texas produces more beef and cotton than any other state. Texas has a lot of snakes and flowers, and producers of nearly everything everywhere are determined to make a market in Texas.

When the product bears on what children in the other 49 states learn at school, what Texas produces becomes our business. Textbook publishers long ago learned that publishing textbooks for Texas was an opportunity to hit a gusher, like Jett Rink's gusher of oil in the movie "Giant." With more than 4.7 million students and a school board that adopts textbooks for the whole state, Texas attracts publishers from all over to make pilgrimages to Texas to get drafts of their books approved according to Texas standards. It follows that this one-size-fits-all cuts the cost of textbooks for schools in the rest of the nation.

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This year, the Texas Board of Education landed itself in the middle of the culture wars when it rewrote the social studies curriculum, inviting a debate that mirrors the values conflict between traditionalists and multiculturalists. With partisans on the right and on the left, it's the 21st century's "battle of the books." The argument is tilted a bit to the right, with 10 Republicans and five Democrats deciding on changes in the books.

"We are adding balance," Dr. Don McLeroy, the conservative leader on the board, told The New York Times. "History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left. "

Counters Mary Beth Berlanga, a longtime Texas board member and Hispanic activist, "They are rewriting history." She complains that conservatives ignore Hispanics and want to portray a white America. She and her liberal friends accuse the board of "racist ideology" and spreading "capitalism propaganda."

Calmer observers suggest the changes are a necessary correction of liberal bias. Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the New York-based American Textbook Council, an independent research organization that reviews history and social studies textbooks used in the nation's schools, argues that "for two decades, multiculturalists have tried to supplant the older view of Americans as religious dissenters, pioneers and immigrants intent on making a freer and better life, a force for good in the world, a nation that regulated reform and advanced civil rights to all."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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