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Americans already have a well-established institution for force-feeding ideology to the next generation of impressionable minds: the family. For the Texas Board of Education, however, the family is not enough. Their decision last week to compel health textbook publishers to define marriage explicitly as the union between a man and a woman goes beyond not only the reasonable bounds for state intervention, but the legal as well.
Unfortunately, this example of the right wing forcing its agenda down the throats of Texas children comes as no surprise. Textbook publishers who want to tap into the nation’s second largest textbook market must go through a gauntlet of citizen watchdog groups and right-wing think tanks who inspect the books before passing them on to the no less conservative State Board of Education for approval. By these means the Lone Star State has already been rewriting American History from the perspective of the hard-line religious right for years.
The board’s unabashed propagandizing comes despite a 1995 law passed by the Texas senate restricting the board’s authority to vet textbooks—factual inaccuracy is the only basis on which they are allowed to judge. But apparently the Board of Education does not see legality as a barrier to its mission to eradicate—in the words of Board member Terri Leo—“asexual stealth phrases.”
To be sure, the consequences of exposing students to such troublesome phrases as “when two people marry” or “married partners” are immeasurably tragic to some hard-line Texas conservatives. But we wonder whether strong-arming publishers on this point is truly the most responsible use of taxpayer money. For once, it might be preferable not to snuff out the seeds of tolerance before, heaven forbid, they take root in the public schools of Texas.
While this closed-minded impudence is perhaps to be expected from the state that gave America chainsaw massacres and George W. Bush, the decisions of the Texas Board of Education have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the nation. Texas buys almost ten percent of America’s textbooks, and its market power allows it to influence which textbooks are sold nationally. When overzealous board members in Texas force textbook publishers to pander to the ideology of the right, students in dozens of states are worse off for it.
Texas law defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman is no justification for the State Board of Education to tweak textbooks to conform to its own agenda. If the Texas Board of Education is so desperate to inculcate schoolchildren with notions of morality, then it would do well to lead by example. We suggest it begin by obeying the law.
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