House Bills 220 and 2534 Will Return Texas to Its Dark Ages

An Analysis by
Steven Schafersman
President, Texas Citizens for Science
January 25, 2005
(Updated: April 26, 2005)

Texas State Representative Charlie Howard of Sugar Land, Texas, has proposed new House Bill No. 220 for consideration in the 2005 Texas Legislative Session. The proposed bill reads as follows:

An Act relating to the State Board of Education review of public school textbooks.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS: SECTION 1. Section 31.023, Education Code, is amended by amending Subsection (b) and adding Subsection (c) to read as follows:

(b) Each textbook on a conforming or nonconforming list must:

(1) be free from factual errors, including errors of commission or omission related to viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy on major issues, as determined by the State Board of Education; and

(2) comply with textbook content guidelines adopted by the board under Subsection (c).

(c) The State Board of Education shall by rule adopt guidelines that define general textbook content standards under this subchapter, including standards related to curriculum requirements under Section 28.002. The board shall reject any textbook that does not comply with the textbook content standards adopted under this subsection.

SECTION 2. Section 31.023(b), Education Code, as amended by this Act, applies only to textbooks adopted by the State Board of Education on or after September 1, 2006. SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2005.

This bill, if enacted, would return Texas to its Dark Ages of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Texas State Board of Education routinely forced publishers to change textbook content or rejected the books for adoption and use in Texas public schools based on "viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy" as determined by individual powerful Board members. Since publishers could not afford to have their textbooks rejected, they all readily agreed to change their books' content. The changes forced on the publishers consisted of two types: (1) correction of legitimate factual errors correctly identified by textbook reviewers, and (2) censorship of facts, ideas, and knowledge, including facts about United States history, government, corporations, and economic system, and accurate and reliable scientific knowledge about such things as the topic of evolution, the origin of life, the origin of the universe, excessive human population growth, industrial pollution, and environmental destruction. In every case regarding textbook censorship, the State Board had books changed to reflect the beliefs of extreme and radical right-wing religious fundamentalists. More importantly, most of this censorship was done behind the scenes, out of public view and off the record, by Board members who required Texas Education Agency staff and publishers to make textbook content changes by private agreement.

This process was so extreme and enduring that publishers began to self-censor their textbooks in anticipation of reaction by the Texas State Board of Education. Such self-censorship continues today, as witnessed by the abstinence-only health education textbooks submitted for adoption in 2004. These books completely omitted information about contraception and prophylaxis to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases. Despite the fact that Texas has among the worst statistics of all the states for these problems, the inadequate and dangerous health textbooks were adopted nevertheless. Self-censorship by publishers is selective, however: I believe the publishers are prescient, for they anticipate perfectly how far they think they can go and how much the Board will allow. Two years ago, the publishers did not self-censor the topic of evolution in the biology textbooks (as they have in the past), and the books escaped substantive damaging revision. But last year, the publishers did self-censor the health textbooks. They examples show quite clearly that self-censorship is a deliberate, carefully thought-out process on their part. Let me state quite clearly my opinion that school textbook publishers would engage in both self-censorship and submit to censorship by state school officials if it gives them a financial advantage. Notoriously, authors, including scientists, do not have complete legal control over the content of the textbooks they write. Publishers have ultimate control and will negotiate with their authors about controversial content--if the authors are fortunate--if not, authors' opinions or integrity are ignored. (I recognize the fact that in some cases the textbook authors themselves are more than willing to omit controversial but vital information; this was the case, for example, for one of the health education textbooks recently adopted in Texas. The author was himself a member of the radical religious right.)

Without going into detail, I remember many occasions when the State Board forced publishers to remove, minimize, or distort the topic of evolution, the age of the Earth, the source and consequences of industrial pollution, the effects of excessive human population growth, important aspects of United States history involving wars, labor unions, social legislation, sex education, definitions of controversial words, and many other similar topics that are anathema to the radical religious right. Once the State Board even rejected the dictionary when the publisher refused to remove certain words! My own particular interest was protecting science textbooks, and I can state from personal experience that biology and earth science textbooks used in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s were censored by the State Board of Education, and were thus inadequate for quality science instruction. If any topic were omitted, minimized, or distorted in a science textbook, it would be difficult for any Texas science teacher to cover the topic adequately, since most teachers who teach controversial topics in Texas receive complaints from parents and are not backed up by administrators. The teachers' only easy defense for teaching such subjects--in the face of administrators literally telling them to omit or distort the scientific subjects--is that textbooks (and the state curriculum) cover them.

Intimidation of teachers is the goal of religious radicals, who want such topics as evolution, origin of life, age of the Earth, pollution, and excessive human population growth marginalized or avoided in public school classrooms. Also, many aspects of US history, human sexuality, and religious and economic history that reflect badly on conservatives and Republicans, unethical and dangerous business practices and companies, etc., are censored, but I cannot investigate all these. The radical right succeeded in this goal and, to a lesser extent (by exploiting the limited power they have now to correct "factual errors"), have continued their success to the present day. In Texas, it is common knowledge among teachers that the topic of evolution, for example, must be treated very carefully; usually it is omitted, minimized, or distorted (for example, euphenisms are used rather than the e-word, evolution), so students and parents will not complain to school officials. When such complaints do take place, rarely do the school administrators back up the teachers. Thus, in Texas, the topic of evolution is taught minimally and poorly, despite its correct coverage in biology textbooks.

Complaints from Texas scientists, teachers, and, most importantly, business leaders--who wanted a properly-educated work force and were embarrassed by the persistent anti-science antics of the religious right State Board members--finally led the Texas Legislature in 1995 to strip the State Board of its power to modify textbook content based on "viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy," and limiting its power to correct factual errors alone. This was an extremely laudatory development, and served to reduce the perennial embarrassment that Texas faced for adopting science, health, history, and government textbooks that contained content that was so obviously censored.

However, as related in my other writing on the TCS website, current members of the State Board of Education have used their more limited power to continue to force (and attempt to force) publishers to make unnecessary, irresponsible, and ideologically-biased changes in textbooks under the guise of correcting "factual errors," since the Board members reserve the right to decide what is or is not a "factual error." Thus, an environmental textbook was recently rejected when the publisher refused to make unscientific and inaccurate changes about the source of air pollution. Health textbooks were recently censored (with the complicity of the publishers) to eliminate all mention of contraception and prophylaxis for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and instead to include abstinence-only sexual health education; in addition, the definition of marriage was changed to eliminate the possibility of same-sex marriage (the instigator of this change, State Board member Terri Leo, tried to falsely characterize homosexuality of leading to "increased rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide").

Finally, a massive attempt by some Board members and both Texas and out-of-state creationists was made to censor biology textbooks to minimize and distort their presentation of evolution and the origin of life, but this ultimately failed when Texas scientists and business leaders fought back. Other examples of this behavior involving non-science social studies, history, and civics books could be presented, but I was not personally involved in those controversies, so I will not describe them here. But the bottom line is that some SBOE members are willing to abuse their limited power to "correct" "factual errors" to force the publishers to make textual changes, thus achieving their goal of distorting reliable scientific and historical knowledge so that their religious, politcal, and ideological views are not impugned by such awkward things as scientific and historical facts. Imagine what they would do if their original powers to control textbook content were returned to them.

Thus, even with the limited power they now have, several State Board members have attempted and succeeded in forcing publishers to make inaccurate and ideological changes in their textbooks proposed for state adoption. However, they must make awkward circumlocutions and operate fully in public view with full accountability, because the current law requires that only factual errors may be changed and this must be done in public meetings. Therefore, the recent antics of Board members to force their radical ideologies into textbooks have been well-documented in news reports and on the TCS website. If Texas Representative Charlie Howard's bill were to become enacted into law as a statute, the State Board would regain the powers they once possessed to modify textbook content in any way they wished, just as they did in the past.

No one objects to correcting factual errors when they are really errors, and not the bogus "factual errors" that only exist in the minds of irresponsible State Board members. Today, Board members really have to work hard to censor and reject textbooks on the basis of nonsensical "factual errors." Howard's bill, however, would make their dirty work much easier, since--as in the past--they could censor and reject books based on "viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy on major issues," as determined by the Board members themselves! Such issues would include any topic that opposes their extreme religious, political, and ideological beliefs. Examples traditionally include the textbook topics described above, but every year new issues magically materialize, since the bizarre, politically ultra-right, arch-capitalist, and extreme religious beliefs of some of the State Board members never fail to generate new textbook content issues that concern them. Their primary occupation is to keep students ignorant of any information that might impugn or mitigate fundamentalist religious beliefs, abstinence-only sex education, extreme patriotism, or laissez-faire capitalism. This means that some major school subjects are affected by textbook censorship: biology, environmental science, earth science, history, government, economics, social studies, and health education.

Board members' attempts at authoritarian mind control of students by censoring textbook content is well-known to Texas State Board of Education observers, and I don't doubt that most Texas citizens probably agree with this reprehensible practice. However, such censorship is wrong, anti-intellectual, and educationally damaging. State Board members constantly claim they want students to succeed, excel, and achieve in their public school education, but they are blind to the fact that their own actions that promote ignorance, censorship, and false knowledge work against such exemplary goals and high achievement. Students need good textbooks that avoid the "viewpoint discrimination" and "special interest advocacy" of the extremist State Board members. Students need complete and reliable science, history, economics, civics, and health education, not the censored and unreliable versions that the Texas textbook adoption process so commonly produces. Charlie Howard's bill would make it easier for the current radical State Board members to force textbooks to conform to their bizarre and extreme views, which used to be a common practice in the 1970s and 1980s, but is more difficult and thus less common today. Let's not return to the Texas Dark Ages, but oppose the powerful Texas public officials who want to damage reliable and accurate public school education, and try to improve our schools by eliminating ignorance and viewpoint bias of religious and ideological extremists. The first step would be to not legislatively return power to the Texas State Board of Education to easily censor and reject textbooks. Please oppose House Bill 220, truly a Bad Bill in the rich and notorious Texas Legislative tradition of "Bad Bills."

Recently, a news article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram makes clear the danger of Charlie Howard's House Bill 220:

Textbook bill aimed at teaching creationism, too

By R.A. Dyer
Star-Telegram Austin Bureau
Fri, Apr. 22, 2005

AUSTIN - Biblical creationism could be taught side-by-side with evolution in science textbooks under legislation pending in the Texas House, according to the bill's sponsor.

State Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, said his House Bill 220 would give the elected State Board of Education more control over the content of school textbooks. Students should get information about creationism if they are being taught about evolution, and he said his legislation could lead the way.

"I don't believe in evolution. I believe in creation," he said. "Some of our books right now only teach evolution, [but] if you're going to teach one, you ought to teach both."

The Houston-area lawmaker also said the State Board of Education, a Republican-controlled body with strong representation by social conservatives, should have the discretion to remove evolution segments from science textbooks.

"Evolution is a theory," he said. "It is a theory, it's not a fact. There is no fact for evolution, none. ... Why are we teaching a theory, when we have [another] position -- creation -- that the majority of the people in this country believe?"

Howard's legislation would give the State Board of Education authority to "adopt guidelines that define general textbook content standards," including standards related to curriculum requirements.

HB 220 also calls for textbooks to remain free from "errors of commission or omission related to viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy on major issues, as determined by the State Board of Education."

Don't be bamboozled, said Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller: HB 220 represents a step backward for Texas education.

"There will be diluting of history, a narrowing of perspectives and a removal of factual information if it doesn't fit with the personal and religious beliefs of whatever majority controls the board," said Miller, whose group opposes the religious right in state politics.

State board member Terri Leo, a social conservative Republican from Houston, said the legislation would simply restore to the state board its authority over textbooks.

"Without SBOE authority to establish general textbook content standards, books with viewpoint discrimination, bias, a negative portrayal of the free enterprise system and U.S. citizenship and extremely objectionable or inappropriate content can be and have been approved," Leo said.

The board had greater control over textbook content until the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 1995. Now, state board members can reject only textbooks that fail to meet physical specifications, those that contain factual errors or those that do not cover the state's education curriculum.

However, the state board can indirectly control textbook content because it has authority over the state's curriculum. The last time the board revamped curriculum was in 1996, according to information from the Texas Education Agency.

Legislation similar to Howard's includes House Bill 973 by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, and House Bill 2534 by state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. Chisum's bill also states that textbooks cannot "encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society."

State Representative Warren Chisum of Pampa, Texas, has his own bad bill before the Texas House Public Education Committee. His bill, HB 2534, reads as follows:

An Act relating to the content requirements and limitations for public school textbooks.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS: SECTION 1. Subchapter B, Chapter 31, Education Code, is amended by adding Sections 31.0221-31.0226 to read as follows:


(a) Each adopted textbook:

(1) must meet the content requirements and limitations prescribed by this section and Sections 31.0222-31.0226, as applicable to the category in which the textbook is adopted;

(2) must be written by an author who has expertise and experience that provide authoritative credibility to the author's work;

(3) may not have been written by an employee of the agency; and

(4) may not include blatantly offensive language or illustrations.

(b) When appropriate, a textbook may include illustrations that are informative, closely related to the content, and placed where the illustrations may be used in conjunction with written text.

(c) The content of an adopted textbook must be organized to facilitate both teaching and learning.

(d) The publisher of a textbook submitted for adoption shall:

(1) conduct a systematic and thorough editorial review of the textbook; and

(2) verify facts, including historical dates, contained in the textbook.

(e) Before the state may purchase an adopted textbook, the publisher shall delete from the textbook content and suggested readings that violate the requirements and limitations of this section or Section 31.0222, 31.0223, 31.0224, 31.0225, or 31.0226.

Sec. 31.0222. CONTENT REQUIREMENTS AND LIMITATIONS: FACTS AND THEORIES. An adopted textbook must present the most current factual information accurately and objectively and without editorial opinion or bias by the authors. A theory must be clearly distinguished from facts and presented in an objective educational manner.


(a) An adopted textbook must promote citizenship, patriotism, understanding of the essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for recognized authority, and respect for individual rights.

(b) For purposes of this section, "free enterprise" means an economic system characterized by:

(1) private or corporate ownership of capital goods;

(2) investments that are determined by private decisions rather than state control; and

(3) the determination in a free market of prices, production, and the distribution of goods.


An adopted textbook may not include selections or works that encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law. A textbook that describes violence must do so in the context of the cause and consequences of the violence and may not include descriptions of violence for reasons of unwholesome excitement or sensationalism.

Sec. 31.0225. CONTENT REQUIREMENTS AND LIMITATIONS: HISTORY. An adopted textbook must present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. In discussing significant political or social movements in history that generate contrasting points of view, a textbook must present balanced and factual treatment of each position.


(a) An adopted textbook must treat divergent groups fairly without stereotyping and must reflect the positive contribution of all individuals and groups to the American way of life. Illustrations and written materials must avoid bias toward any particular individual or group and must present a wide range of goal choices. Textbook authors shall take particular care in the treatment of ethnic groups, issues relating to the aging and aged, roles of men and women, the dignity of workers, and respect for the work ethic.

(b) An adopted textbook may not encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society.

(c) An adopted textbook must provide an objective view of cultural confluence and must include information needed to develop mutual understanding and respect among all elements of our population. Textbooks must reflect an awareness that culture and language variation does exist and can be used to promote successful learning.

(d) An adopted textbook must present:

(1) examples of men and women participating in a variety of roles and activities; and

(2) the economic, political, social, and cultural contributions of men and women, past and present.

(e) An adopted textbook that treats aspects of the world of work should reflect the positive contributions of all types of careers to the American economic system and way of life. People presented in textbooks should reflect varieties of work and be treated without bias toward particular kinds of work.

(f) An adopted textbook must present traditional and contemporary roles of men, women, boys, and girls. (g) An adopted textbook must present balanced treatment of issues relating to the aging and aged.

This bill is so odious that it stands little chance of passing the Texas Senate, although it may pass the Texas House, and it certainly will get through the House Public Education Committee chaired by radical religious right Republican Kent Grusendorf. Representative Grusendorf is a former member of the State Board of Education, but quickly moved to the House when he realized where the real power was to damage and destroy public education in Texas by promoting religious right ideologies in history and social studies, distorting and minimalizing science education in biology and earth science, and starving public schools by promoting private school vouchers, virtual private academies, virtual home schooling, and religious charter schools, all at public expense. So far, Grusendorf's success has been spotty (after all, he has to oppose Texas teachers, scientists, and the business community, and they still have some political power in this state), but bills such as these by Howard and Chisum are in line with his goals.

House Bill 2534 contains many improper, subversive, and anti-educational school textbook requirements that promote the agenda of the radical religious right (who style themselves social conservatives, but are exactly the opposite). First, "A theory must be clearly distinguished from facts and presented in an objective educational manner." This language is meant to distort the topic of evolution, which is both a fact and a theory. Even the theoretical part of evolution that is elementary enough to be taught in public schools is completely accepted by scientists. Nevertheless, the language is inserted here to allow anti-evolution textbook critics to attack future biology textbooks that accurately portray and explain evolution. Censorship and attempted censorship of science textbooks has been a continuing problem in Texas for many decades, and this bill tries to make that problem both explicit and lawful.

Second, "An adopted textbook must promote citizenship, patriotism, understanding of the essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for recognized authority, and respect for individual rights." Some of these stipulations are fine, but their ulterior purpose is to promote unthinking ultra-patriotism and laissez faire capitalism, and to ignore, distort, and minimalize the social accomplishments of our society and government, including social security, public health programs, workers compensation, labor unions, and corporate, industrial, and market regulation. The free enterprise system has both benefits and problems, and both should be taught.

Third, "An adopted textbook must present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. In discussing significant political or social movements in history that generate contrasting points of view, a textbook must present balanced and factual treatment of each position." The intent is to force textbooks to ignore or minimize the repressive and authoritarian acts and excesses of the United States government in both domestic and global affairs; students are expected to develop a starry-eyed view of our country without proper perspective and balance. The whitewashed and unbalanced treatment of extreme and controversial epidodes in our country's political, social, and economic history has been a continuing problem with textbooks used in Texas, and this bill attempts to continue that censorship and distortion. The amazing irony of this bill is that the attempted censorship is so blatantly displayed, insofar that, while textbooks must present "balanced and factual treatment" of positions, they must also present only "positive"--not negative--aspects of US history. How "balanced" is a textbook if it omits recent historical events of unlawful US foreign invasion, assassination, imprisonment, torture, hegemony, and other acts that can only be described as "imperial" and certanly not "positive." No doubt the irony of these requirements is lost on their author.

Fourth, the final unappreciated irony of Representative Chisum are his conflicting requirements that, "An adopted textbook must treat divergent groups fairly without stereotyping and must reflect the positive contribution of all individuals and groups to the American way of life" and "An adopted textbook may not encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society." The intended meaning of the latter sentence is to discourage an objective, fair, and thus favorable treatment of gays and lesbians in US society and culture, but this directly conflicts with the former sentence.

Bad bills like HB 2534 have been filed throughout Texas legislative history, but only with the rise of the radical religious right and their new and recent control of Texas politics have such bills been seriously considered. If this bill is made into law, Texas students will be forced to learn a more distorted, censored, and mendacious curriculum than they now experience. Such a third-rate education could only be desirable to religious right radicals, who work hard to keep their children ignorant of scientific and historical reality, and not by, for example, the Texas business community, who need workers who have gained a sound technical and cultural education based on legitimate science, history, and economics. It is sad that public officials want to push a third-rate curriculum on all Texas students, not just those unfortunate enough to be the children of extreme right-wing religious parents.

UPDATE (April 26, 2005): Both of these bills died in committee. It will be difficult to pass these again for two years, until the next session of the Texas Legislature. TCS will monitor any special session for school finance to be sure that bills such as these do not become law. In addition, vouchers, virtual charter schools, and public school privatization all failed. With the exception of school finance (a big exception), this session has been a victory for public school education, students, and Texas citizens. We must always be vigilant, however, against the efforts of the 4Rs (Radical Republican Religious Right) to destroy public education in Texas.

Last updated: 2005/04/26