Republican lawmakers want re-examination of 'biased' textbooks

Two top conservative lawmakers want the Tennessee Board of Education to re-examine last month's approval of a list of social studies textbooks they say contain biased selections that are marred with inaccuracies.

That request, made in a Nov. 6 letter from Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Mike Bell, R-Riceville, came at the conclusion of a two-day hearing last week on the Tennessee Textbook Commission's process in reviewing books used in K-12 public schools.

Under the current system, the textbook commission — a 10-member body made up of educators from across Tennessee, nine of whom are appointed by the governor — recommends the selection of textbooks that are then voted on by the board of education.

While Gresham, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Bell, who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, say the review process must be analyzed moving forward, they also want the state board and textbook commission to go back retroactively and review books it approved on Oct. 25.

"Troubling revelations came to light from both oral and written testimony, which described inaccuracies, biases, and outright fabrications in many of the social studies textbooks reviewed in the current cycle," the letter reads.

They provided three examples among hundreds of social studies textbooks that were approved last month for a six-year cycle beginning next year:

• A textbook that describes China's one-child policy this way: "After a quarter-century of intensive educational programs, as well as coercion, the Chinese people have accepted the benefits of family planning." It goes on to cite "the benefits" after explaining that to discourage births, "people receive free contraceptives, abortions, and sterilizations" and that the "rules are enforced by a government agency, the State Family Planning Commission."

• A textbook that has a definition of capitalism that also adds "ownership of property immediately creates inequality in society."

• A textbook that defines the Iran-based Marty Foundation, which provides aid to families of suicide bombers, as a group that "supports 188,000 people by giving aid, priority admission for education, in-kind transfers, housing services and other benefits."

State Board of Education Chairman Fielding Rolston confirmed receiving the letter, adding that he and other commissioners heard the same concerns in past public comments. He said they are exploring whether changes need to be made. He also said the board wasn't familiar with all the public comments when it approved the books.

"The concerns that are there, I think, are legitimate," Rolston said. "We're trying to take a close look at them."


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