Sunday, March 27, 2005

In Textbooks, Texas Rules

These guys in New York are just now figuring out that Texas determines their sex education resources, and you get the feeling they don't really like it. It turns out that you can't even buy a sex-education textbook any more, in the whole country, that says anything about contraception. All the textbook companies put out abstinence-only textbooks, because that's what Texas wants. None of them put out abstinence-first textbooks, that is, ones that talk about anything but sexual abstinence.
New York state has never endorsed the abstinence-only approach and probably never will. Study after study has judged abstinence-only an educational disaster, leading to increased rates of unprotected sex, which generally boosts teen pregnancy and STD infection rates ["Abstaining From the Truth," Newsfront, Dec. 9, 2004]. Critics of abstinence-only methods say a better model is the so-called "abstinence first" approach, which advises students to remain abstinent but also teaches them about contraception and family planning.

Yet abstinence-only is about to become the national standard for health-education textbooks. How did this happen? Who decided, based on what instructional and scientific criteria?

For answers, we must travel 1,850 miles to the Austin headquarters of the Texas State Board of Education. Each fall, the Texas Board of Education considers a new crop of textbooks for adoption. The 15 elected members of this powerful group can vote to approve a textbook as "conforming" to Texas state law, which means the state will pay for local school districts to use the textbook, or to reject it, which effectively shuts the textbook out of the $400 million Texas market.

Publishers compete energetically to win the Texas Board of Education's adoption sweepstakes. In their strenuous efforts, publishers break bread and cut deals with the most powerful political players—not teachers, not school board officials, not parents or government officials, but rather Texas’ community of religious conservatives, whose support or opposition can make or break a textbook adoption. The Education Censors

It turns out there are bigger markets than Texas, for instance California and New York have more students. But sometime in the past, the Southern states started banding together in buying textbooks, because they needed special pro-Confederate history books. And the Southern states are a bigger market than any single liberal yankee state. So the textbook publishers don't even bother putting any information into their sex-ed textbooks, beyond just say no to sex.

It's not that the publishers don't try.
Consider the fate of two health-education textbooks submitted for adoption in 1994. Holt Rinehart Winston proposed a modestly worded abstinence-first textbook. Texas conservatives sharply disapproved. Even worse, the textbook used line drawings to show girls how to conduct a self-examination for breast cancer. The notion of taxpayer-funded pictures of breasts drove conservatives wild with rage. The Holt textbook went down to defeat.

Glencoe McGraw-Hill’s entry, on the other hand, received near unanimous approval. A 1995 memo by Glencoe regional vice president David Irons explained why: "Glencoe Health . . . does not contain a discussion about alternatives to abstinence . . . does not promote a Pro-Homosexual lifestyle or an Anti-Family agenda [and] is the only health text endorsed by the Texas Council for Family Values, the American Family Association . . . and Concerned Women for America." Glencoe Health went on to take 60 percent of the Texas market. McGraw-Hill subsequently promoted Irons.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if public opinion affected other subjects. Like, can you imagine if conservatives were opposed to ... I don't know ... factoring, say, in mathematics. You can divide, you can multiply, but you can't say anything about factoring. Some people would try to sneak in references to prime numbers, but sharp-eyed censors would spot them and ban those texts forever.

Ah, but other subjects are affected:
And conservative influence does not begin or end with health education. Consider the changes made to these 2002 textbooks adopted by the Texas Board of Education:

Evolution: In Our World Today: People, Places and Issues (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill), a passage noting that "glaciers formed the Great Lakes millions of years ago" was altered to read "in the distant past" after a conservative reviewer attacked the phrase as merely "the opinion of some scientist who support [sic] the theory of evolution."

Islam: A passage in World Explorer: People, Places and Cultures (Prentice Hall) noting that the Quran teaches "the importance of honesty, honor, giving to others and having love and respect for . . . families" was deleted after a conservative reviewer branded it "more propaganda" for Islam.

Global warming: Prentice Hall dropped an entire section on global warming from World Explorer after a reviewer charged that it would "prepare students to look to the government for solutions to problems."

Some people don't distinguish between education and indoctrination, and all of us are affected.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cant seem to google up much trustworthy data on your cause Du Jour. Everywhere I go seems biased by the pro-gay or good Christian author, and even though I recognize you are as biased as any of them are, can you give me a link to any unbiased scientific studies that accurately address:

A. Are sexually transmitted disease contraction rates higher in homosexuals than in heterosexuals?

B. Is pedophilia more common among homosexuals than in heterosexuals?

C. Are suicide rates higher among homosexuals than in heterosexuals?

D. Are domestic violence rates higher among homosexuals than in heterosexuals?

E. Is life expectancy shorter among homosexuals than in heterosexuals?

I have seen some reports that say AIDS infection rates are up to 40 times more common among homosexuals than in heterosexuals, if any of this is even remotely true, I think it should be relayed to students at the same time they are told how normal homosexuality is.

March 28, 2005 9:14 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Doctor, it is hard to find answers to most of these questions, mainly because the issue is so polarized.

A. I don't quickly find a good survey that compares.

B. Regarding pedophilia and homosexuality, here's a good review at the University of California, Davis: Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation. It's actually kind of complicated. But mostly, girls get molested, and most child molesters are children themselves. Anyway, here's what you're looking for.

C. You'll see this both ways. Rates are probably higher for gays, but nobody asks you before you kill yourself, whether you're straight or not, so there's no way to know. The difference is probably not as high as gay advocacy groups like to say, and not as low as the self-righteous ones tell us, but everyone agrees it's a problem, especially among adolescents.

D. I don't know, I think if you search Google and say something like, you can weed out the "family blah-blah" groups that already know the answer they want before they see the data.

E. It appears that the data showing longevity differences are extremely suspect. The journal Psychological Reports, which published one often-cited result, is a "pay to publish" journal, light on peer review. Paul Cameron's study, as well, showing longevity differences, is almost surely junk. Given what AIDS has done to the gay community, I wouldn't be surprised if the mean is relavitely lower for that population, but it's hard to measure.

The information about AIDS is given in the STD part of the health class.

It would be nice if there were just nice, neat data sets out there that researchers could mine for answers to some of these questions. Unfortunately, very few surveys ask about sexual orientation -- have you every been asked in a survey or poll? So nobody can really say what the figures are. The propagandists jump into the void, making up numbers or inferring from some convenient examples, and pretty soon these things take on a life of their own.

March 28, 2005 10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The information about AIDS is given in the STD part of the health class.

Just to clarify, are you saying that at any point in the health class curriculum, the students are informed that leading a homosexual lifestyle increases their chances of acquiring AIDS?

March 29, 2005 11:37 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Wow, Blogger comments aren't working very well today.

I'd be pretty sure the health curriculum doesn't talk about the "gay lifestyle." It is my understanding though that they do teach that AIDS is often contracted through anal sex, which is really the point, right?

March 29, 2005 1:27 PM  

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