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May Day Union Songs Saturday, May 1, 6:30 pm Texas Center for Documentary Photography 2104 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Featuring the Melancholy Ramblers, Alice Embree and Boone Taylor Free to Union Members, National Lawyers Guild members and Texas Observer subscribers. Tickets $35 or the purchase of an Observer subscription at the door. 4 . Nk… < A gay agenda." So much so, that Cyberpatrol, the most commonly used internet screening software, currently blocks access to the A.F.A. web site, citing the group's "intolerance" a category designed chiefly to filter out neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. Though numerically smaller than the Texas chapter of the Christian Coalition, the A.F.A. of Texas has considerable clout, particularly with the Board of Education. Last summer the A.F.A., led by Wyatt Roberts, convinced the Board to dump all the Disney stock held by the public school fund because of Disney's marketing, through its Miramax subsidiary, of presumably "immoral" films. The civil liberties group People for the American Way wrote McGraw-Hill objecting to Glencoe's marketing tactics, particularly its pandering to homophobia. In June of 1995, McGraw-Hill C.E.O. Jack Witmer responded with a lengthy rationalization of his company's district lobbying effort. Witmer called lions' gay-bashing letter "a one-time response ... to a specific political situation," and denied that it was part of any marketing strategy. Strategy or isolated tactic, the letter worked brilliantly: shortly after Irons sent it, the A.F.A. mailed its own review of all four health books to its membership, advising them to get behind Glencoe Health in their districts. A few weeks later, conservative Board member Donna Ballard \(since her region to the A.F.A. review. Witmer's disclaimer notwithstanding, Glencoe's publisher/activist synergy proved so successful it earned David Irons a promotion. In 1996-97, McGraw-Hill's social studies series picked up endorsements from the Gablers and from a conservative Texas think tank called the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is underwritten by James Leininger the Christian right tort reformer and big funder from San Antonio. The Gablers sent out a brief fax to school districts across the state, citing a purported ranking of the four adopted social studies series, based on the preferences of "a great majority of participants in the Texas adoption process." The Gablers claimed "the consensus was that McGraw-Hill's Adventures in Time and Place is the least controversial and most positive series." Yet according to Jane Humphries, chair of the 1996 Texas Council for the Social Studies textbook review committee, no such ranking system was ever used in the evaluation of the textbooks, all of which were approved by the State Textbook Review Committee. About the same time, parents around the state received a fourpage "action alert" from Chris Patterson, education analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The foundation's list of recent publications reads like Newt Gingrich's personal bookshelf everything from school vouchers to tort reform, as well as instructions in privatizing every imaginable government function. "Unless members of the public advise districts to purchase the Macmillan/McGraw-Hill textbooks," Patterson wrote, "many students in Texas will learn little about dates, places, events and people. Instead of academics, students will learn how to feel about personal, social, and political issues." Conservative board members had relied heavily on Patterson and the Foundation in earlier battles, particularly in the lengthy fight over revision of the state's curriculum standards in 1996, for which Patterson produced a devastatingly meticulous assault on the work of the Texas Education Agency. Patterson says she read every book in every series from cover to cover to produce her evaluation of the history texts, but re APRIL 30, 1999 ceived no money from any publisher. Rather, Public Policy Foundation underwriter James Leininger picked up the tab, not only for the review, but also for the direct mail campaign that spread the word about McGraw-Hill' s.good work throughout Texas. " o I think the process has become degraded? Absolutely," says George Delano. He says he often had ethical reserva tions about some of his own company's tactics, which included hiring a PR firm to plant attack editorials aimed at competitors' math books in the Dallas Morning News and the Sacramento Bee \(the "fuzzy math" or "rainforest algebra" brouhaha that Yet some of the conservative complaints are valid, Delano maintains. Reading scores really did plummet in California when phonics instruction was largely removed from the curriculum ten years ago. Now, he says, the pendulum has swung violently in the other direction, the result of a combination of a highly politicized atmosphere in education and big money at stake for publishers. The McGraw-Hill reading editor echoes Delano's fears. "There's no forum for criticism of the pedagogy in these books at all," he said. "So what's to stop someone from kowtowing to a group with an obvious political agenda?" Ultimately, teachers and students in public schools harvest the fruit of the process: history books full of colorful charts and banal descriptions of nothing at all; reading books bereft of interesting things to read. "Conservative ideas don't guarantee a more fundamental education," concluded the editor. "I mean, how 'basic' do you want to get? We could teach them to make stone tools, too." THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13