MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Texas is the second largest buyer of textbooks in the nation behind California. So what Texas children read is often what kids in other states read. And for years, a couple from Longview, Texas - Norma and Mel Gabler - had a big say over what went into those books and what didn't. Norma Gabler died late last month.
And NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this remembrance.
WADE GOODWYN: The story of Mel and Norma Gabler is a story of bottom-up activism and small town determination that inspired thousands of conservatives in Texas and across the nation. In 1961, their son James had to memorize the Gettysburg Address. They could see in the picture of the Lincoln Memorial the words under God. But those two words had been left out of the text in the book, and once the Gablers started reading carefully, they found a lot of problems in their son's textbook.
Mr. NEAL FREY (Senior Textbook Analyst, Educational Research Analysts): The Gablers have three P's. They often mention prayer, preparation and persistence. They kept coming back. They didn't give up.
GOODWYN: Neal Frey is a senior textbook analyst at the Educational Research Analysts, the Longview, Texas organization founded by the Gablers. Mel was the brains and Norma had the all-important charisma.
Mr. FREY: If you just saw them, Mrs. Gabler did most of the speaking in public. and you would have thought that she was a dominant member of the couple but that was not true. Norma Gabler was no women's libber. She wanted Mel Gabler to lead. Mel Gabler did lead. He made the decisions and he called the shots.
GOODWYN: At first, the Gablers were dismissed by the textbook publishing industry but they simply wouldn't go away. They kept finding errors in the textbooks, lots of them at first, and finding those errors then gave the Gablers leverage to challenge writing in the textbooks on broader grounds like moral and ideological. Frey says that over 40 years, the Gablers got to where they really knew their business.
Mr. FREY: And they sent to battle a mastery of detail is critical. You have to master the details of the textbook adoption process and also master textbook content. If you don't master detail, the education establishment will despise you. If you do master detail, after a while, they will respect you.
GOODWYN: Texas began fining publishers hundreds of thousands of dollars for mistakes the Gablers found. Publishers got the message and agreed to insert language the Gablers wanted. Instead of using gender-neutral terms like married couple middle and high school textbooks inserted more specific language, like the definition of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. And that's just one example.
The Gablers' success drove Texas liberals insane. Columnist Molly Ivins called them, quote, "fear-mongering, right-wing fruit loops." And the left began organizing their own groups in Austin, like People for the American Way.
Dan Quinn is with the non-profit Texas Freedom Network, which also battled the Gablers through the years.
Mr. DAN QUINN (Communications Director, Texas Freedom Network): I think they're really leaving behind a troubled legacy, you know, when it comes to what students learn in public schools. They pretty much launched the movement by conservative pressure groups to censor textbooks.
GOODWYN: Politically moderate educators saw the couple as right-wing extremists but to Norma Gabler, she was just being a good Christian.
Ms. NORMA GABLER (Founder, Educational Research Analysts): I don't know what a right-wing extremist is.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GABLER: I haven't figured that out.
GOODWYN: Norma Gabler died in Phoenix at the age of 84. Her husband, Mel, preceded her by three years.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.