Textbooks: Safe or not?

As parents and adults, we are tasked with providing a safe environment for our children. However, we sometimes neglect the need to safeguard our children’s impressionable minds. The type of information and the manner of presentation in public education textbooks is an area where we often fail due to lack of knowledge and/or lack of participation in the process. Unfortunately, the standard applied to approving textbooks and supportive materials for South Carolina is not one most parents would endorse

The process for approving textbooks made available to local school districts, through taxpayer-funded State procurement, is a tedious road that begins and ends with the State Board of Education. This past summer, I was one of fourteen persons who served on the textbook review panel for Health and Safety education materials for grades 6 through 8. All panel members reviewing textbook materials were appointed by the State Board of Education. Only 9 of the 14 panel members attended the final meeting. At this meeting our individual reviews became the panel recommendation to the State Board of Education.

In review of publisher, Holt, Rinehart & Winston textbooks, I found material that directly infringe upon SC Code of Laws, Section 59-32, referred to as the “Comprehensive Health Education Act of 1988”. One specific example is found in the teachers’ edition (TE) of, “Decisions for Health, Levels Green, Red and Blue” on pages TE52 and TE53. Sexual identity is defined as, “. . . refers to an individual’s predominant attraction toward other people”. Text further states on page TE52, “Surveys indicate that 3 to 10 percent of the population is gay.” This clearly violates Section 59-32-30 (A-5), which states, “The program of instruction provided for in this section may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”.

Publishers Holt, Rinehart & Winston and Glencoe/McMillan were very weak in promoting abstinence from sexual activity, marriage responsibilities, and marriage defined as a relationship between one man and one woman. In the Holt, Rinehart & Winston texts, the family is redefined. Level Green (6th Grade) defines “family” in 18 passages, 8 of them in the student text, to include homosexual groupings and ignoring the necessity of marriage in socially responsible childbearing. This is done in 3 places by referring to “couples” in families instead of fathers and mothers or husbands and wives. In 15 other places, references are made to one or more “adults” in a family instead of a father or mother or husbands and wives. Level Green also interchanges the terms “parents” and “adults,” in the student edition (SE) page 87, paragraph 3, lines 1 through 8.

The text should be revised in 18 additional places to avoid pro-homosexual ambivalence elsewhere in marriage and family topics. Twice the TE explicitly normalizes homosexuality, and once bisexuality. These particular texts violate the State’s Comprehensive Health Education Act.

Level Red, (Grade 7) normalizes homosexuality by referring to romantic relationships “with others” instead of “with the opposite sex” and two TE passages overtly editorialize for homosexuality as a legitimate alternative lifestyle. All three of these passages violate SC anti-sodomy law, which the U.S. Supreme Court unconstitutionally overturned in 2003 by usurping the police power reserved to the states. To correct these lapses in editorial judgment, Holt’s Decisions for Health Level Red should revise these passages.

Level Blue (Grade 8) repeatedly offends the values of most South Carolinians by defining “romantic attraction” to normalize homosexual “affections.” It refers multiple times to romantic attraction “to others” instead of “to the opposite sex.” It also refers to romantic relationships between “people” rather than between “males and females.” This 8th grade TE replicates identical passages in the 6th and 7th grade texts. To mainstream its treatment of romantic attraction, Holt’s Decisions for Health, Level Blue should revise these passages.

Family discussion in these textbooks does not refer to marriage in the description of a family unit. A couple is defined as “two adults living together,” in both the student edition (SE) and the teacher edition (TE).

There is no discussion of the responsibilities of marriage in any of the grade level texts or supplemental materials. Sexual abstinence is a relatively minor topic and is mentioned in connection to marriage one or two times in the SE and TE texts. The risks of sexual activity are clearly presented but not in the context of abstinence until marriage.

These are only a fraction of the things I found to be problematic areas for the curriculum materials of these two publishers. In 2004, an in-depth independent review of the same textbooks, to include another publisher, McGraw/McMillan was done by a nonprofit organization, the Mel Gablers, Educational Research Analysts. This independent review was instrumental in the Texas State Board of Education textbook adoption process last year. Before publisher’s materials could be approved in Texas, revisions to texts were made regarding sexual abstinence, marriage and family definitions, homosexuality, family development, and contraception practices. This was reported on the NBC Nightly News, November 5, 2004, “The Texas State Board of Education has approved new textbooks that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman,” and in the New York Times November 6, 2004 headline, “Health Textbooks in Texas to Change Wording About Marriage.”

Although my objections to textbooks, as noted above, were recorded during the panel review process, as the only layperson (defined: parent not employed by the State), I was the lone voice of dissent on the panel. All of Holt, Rinehart & Winston and Glencoe/McMillan student and teacher edition textbook materials will be recommended to the State Board of Education for approval. I was also very persistent in encouraging the recommendation of an excellent abstinence until marriage education curriculum, which the panel reviewed (Scott & White Hospital’s Worth the Wait), but it will not be included in the recommendations to the State Board.

By virtue of your tax dollars, once adopted by the State Board, these textbooks become available free of charge to school districts. While local school districts can approve other material related to this subject area or develop their own curricula not on the state approved list (SC Code of Laws, Section 59-39-30 (B)), with the budget constraints that we hear so much about, especially in rural districts, it is unlikely that a school district will use a textbook that is not free. In addition, school districts see the adoption process as a “stamp of approval” from the education establishment and often do not veer from texts on the approved list even when made available by outside funding sources.

There are still opportunities for the parents and other concerned citizens to raise their concerns regarding the State adoption of these questionable textbooks. A public review period is part of the adoption process. Your comments can be mailed to the State Department of Education and can make a difference. In addition, you may contact the State Board of Education member who represents your Legislative Delegation or better yet, contact your state representatives who are responsible for the appointment of the State Board members.

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