By Will Weissert
AUSTIN — The Texas Board of Education couldn’t muster the votes late Tuesday to grant preliminary approval for new history and social studies textbooks for classrooms across the nation’s second-largest state, failing to act amid stinging criticism of the proposed books from both the right and left.
Academics and some liberal-leaning activists have complained for months that many of the books up for adoption overstate the influence of religion on early American democracy, including exaggerating biblical figure Moses’ importance to the founding fathers. But conservative groups worry that many of the same books promote pro-Islam values.
That sets up a potentially tense final vote Friday, when the board will have to approve the books or miss the deadline to get them to the state’s 5 million-plus public school students by September 2015. Texas is such a vast textbook market that much of what is produced here can end up influencing materials used in other states.
Board members stressed that they still have time to successfully pass books — but also conceded that no one expected Tuesday to end with no action taken.
The failing vote came after hours of public testimony, where the board heard many of the same complaints about the books that it has for months — that the texts present political and religious beliefs and ideologies as facts.
MerryLynn Gerstenschlager, vice president of the influential conservative group Texas Eagle Forum, said books should describe the “forced wealth distribution” imposed by the United Nations via misleading propaganda about climate change.
Retired school teacher Anthony Bruner warned that they would indoctrinate students with communist tenants.
That organization used dozens of volunteers to raise more than 1,500 complaints about the books. It noted that the achievements of President Ronald Reagan were omitted from some while arguing that others ignored Islam’s occasional glorification of violence — including beheadings.
Roy White, a retired Air Force pilot and Truth in Texas Textbooks’ chairman, said he supports all religions but “the political side of Islam, the part that threatens you and me … that’s not a religion.”
Textbooks for Texas can affect books sold in other states — but that influence may be waning. Since 2011, its school districts have been allowed to buy textbooks with or without board approval.