Back before the Internet and e-books, when school textbooks were hard-back volumes printed by educational publishers, Texas had a wildly disproportionate influence on the lessons those books conveyed. Even then, Texas was an anti-intellectual wasteland, but because of its size–and the need to standardize publication of schoolbooks nationally– it had an outsized influence on what went into the nation’s textbooks. (I often think we should give Texas back to Mexico, but they probably wouldn’t take it…)
Today, of course, school districts have access to a wider variety of educational resources, so the minority of Americans who are firmly opposed to giving children an accurate understanding of history or science have pursed a different tactic: educational vouchers. Vouchers–as readers of this blog are aware–allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private–almost always religious–schools, a large number of which use textbooks that are even less accurate than those once influenced by Texas.
The report began by noting that the singer-songwriter who wrote the controversial “Try that in a small town” shouldn’t have been so surprised by the outcry the song triggered. After all, he’d attended a religious school that used
textbooks produced by Abeka, a publishing company that has long been part of the effort among conservative institutions to teach an airbrushed version of history—one that presents a narrow vision of a heroic, Christian, capitalist America. For the most part, these books have been limited to private schools and homeschools, though the founders of these networks always hoped to influence public life…
Abeka’s roots go back to the 1925 Scopes Trial, which pitted evolutionary science and expert academic knowledge against local control and religious dogma. After the trial, which produced reams of journalistic mockery of conservative religion, prominent fundamentalists like Bob Jones Sr. decided that America needed a new kind of educational institution, one free from the influence of mainstream academic expertise. He founded Bob Jones College in Florida (now Bob Jones University in South Carolina) to provide white conservative Christians with a “fighting base.”
Eventually, even Bob Jones University was deemed too “progressive” by religious fanatics, and a network of white-dominated private religious schools grew rapidly.
These schools promised to maintain prayer and traditional teaching. Most importantly, they promised a refuge from court-ordered desegregation efforts. These schools needed textbooks that would teach the lessons that parents who opposed such measures wanted their children to learn.
In response, Abeka expanded its publishing efforts. The company eventually published original textbooks in every subject, for every grade. The goal was to provide an alternative kind of curriculum, one that—in the words of one Abeka leader in 1979—would teach students to cherish the Bible, “master the three R’s,” maintain a healthy “respect for authority,” and develop “pride in America.”
As the Time article notes, Abeka textbooks teach a history that is “dramatically distinct from mainstream books.” They omit the violence that doomed Reconstruction, instead explaining that it failed because many formerly enslaved people were “not prepared for political responsibility.” “The book does briefly note that “some Southern whites used illegal methods” and “terror tactics,” including forming the KKK. Yet, that mention of white terrorism is buried within an overall message of white victimhood.”
In 2019, Abeka’s texts were used by a majority of America’s 1,689,726 homeschooled students plus nearly three-quarters of a million students in conservative Christian private schools. It isn’t just Abeka–Hillsdale College and PragerU, among others, produce wildly slanted versions of America’s history, and have been making inroads in even public schools in Red States.
And it isn’t just history: textbook publishers serving these Christian voucher schools also produce anti-Darwin, anti-evolution. “science” books.
In 2010, NBC reported that Christian-based materials that omit any mention of evolution had come to dominate the home-school education market; that year, that market was more than 1.5 million students. As the article notes, most home-school parents want a “Bible-based version of the Earth’s creation.”
“Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling,” says the introduction to “Biology: Third Edition” from Bob Jones University Press. “This book was not written for them.”
The textbook delivers a religious ultimatum to young readers and parents, warning in its “History of Life” chapter that a “Christian worldview … is the only correct view of reality; anyone who rejects it will not only fail to reach heaven but also fail to see the world as it truly is.”
That is the worldview being supported by Hoosier tax dollars that have been siphoned off and sent to “voucher” schools by Indiana’s legislators.
And we wonder why educated people leave Indiana…