An Analogy to the Iowa Straw Poll Involving Textbooks

Every four years, well ahead of even the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary, the Ames Straw Poll or Iowa Straw Poll is held. The atmosphere in Ames on that weekend is carnival-like, and, not surprisingly, there have been all sorts of irregularities in the voting: that is, each attempt to reduce those irregularities seems simply to have resulted in more innovative efforts to skew the results.

Consequently, the results are almost wholly non-predictive and therefore much anticipated and very closely monitored by the national media. In 1979, George H. W. Bush won the Straw Poll,; in 1987, Pat Robertson; in 2007, Mitt Romney; and in 2011, Michele Bachmann.

In 1995, Bob Dole did tie Phil Gramm, and in 1999, George W. Bush did win, prompting one to recite the axiom about even a broken clock’s being right twice a day. And to be entirely fair, George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney did get the nominations on the next go-round. On the other hand, Pat Robertson and Michele Bachmann couldn’t get elected under any sort of scenario. But, since the Tea Party whackos seem to have taken over the GOP, let me offer the suggestion that a Michele Bachmann vs. Hillary Clinton race in 2012 might appeal very strongly to the 30% of women who simply won’t vote for Hillary.

In the textbook industry, the decisions by the boards of education in the most populous states determine the content of textbooks for the students in most other states because the economies of scale mean that the publishers want to insure that the content is deemed suitable for the broadest possible number of students.

So, because Texas is the second most populous state and the largest Red state, the recommendations of the state-appointed (i.e. Rick Perry-appointed) textbook reviewers have now become critical in—and a very contentious part of–this process. The reviewers’ recommendations are presented directly to the State Board of Education for approval or rejection, and you can see how the judgments about course content can very easily become—and have become–extremely politicized.

As with the Iowa Straw Poll, there is no evidence that the decisions of those on the textbook review committee represent the views of a majority of Texans–or even a majority of Texas Republicans. So, their decisions clearly give a very disproportionate weight nationally to not just a minority viewpoint but a viewpoint being expressed by a very dubiously representative and essentially self-selected group whose self-interest is being very dubiously framed as the common or public interest.

This year, the textbook reviewers have included a large number of religious fundamentalists who are determined to have creationism treated as science. One of the reviewers offered the following very illustrative comment: “As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.”

The slant of the comment is very significant because, if the reviewer was being entirely honest about the primary shaper of this opinion, he or she would have started the sentence, “As a Christian fundamentalist, . . . “ But, instead, the opinion is presented as if maintaining educational priorities and standards is the primary interest.

The ACLU has aggressively opposed this effort to transform biology into “Bible-ology.”

But if it and other progressive groups are unsuccessful in their efforts, the adoption of such textbooks will provide further, direct evidence that the corporatization of public education is politicizing public education and therefore that public education is no longer serving the broader public good.

Ultimately, the only real way to fight this sort of effort to indoctrinate our children in an ideology embraced by no more than one-third of Americans is for the other two-thirds of us to demand that our school districts not adopt—that our State Boards of Education not approve—textbooks that present religious beliefs as science. The textbook publishers will choose somewhat less profit over lost profits.

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