ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Today, for the first time in more than a decade, the Texas Board of Education approved new social studies textbooks. With some 5 million students, the state has historically had a big impact on the textbook market. Books made to meet Texas standards have often become the template for lots of other states. As we're about to hear, Moses played a starring role in what was a controversial process. Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media has the story.
LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: To understand that controversy, let's start with one high school government textbook. It lists four thinkers who influenced the Founding Fathers.
JENNIFER GRABER: Three of those on the list make a lot of sense - John Locke, Montesquieu and Blackstone - those are all either British philosophers or enlightenment thinkers.
ISENSEE: Jennifer Graber is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. And she says these three thinkers are all quoted in founding documents in early U.S. history. The fourth is not.
GRABER: The fourth person on that list is Moses. And that's a very interesting - and I think for many of us who are academic historians - it's a very ahistorical connection to make. Moses is not someone who is quoted in the founding documents.
ISENSEE: He is, however, mentioned explicitly in Texas learning standards, which is why the publisher included him in its textbook. Here's Ken Mercer, a Republican on the Texas Board of Education, speaking at a public hearing earlier this week.
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KEN MERCER: Moses was not a Founding Father; however, I believe he did influence our Founding Fathers.
ISENSEE: In addition to these social studies materials for grades K through 12, the state also reviewed textbooks in fine arts and math. The process underscores how publishers that want to do business with Texas must make sure their books reflect the state's standards. Kathy Miller is president of the Texas Freedom Network - a left-leaning watchdog group.
KATHY MILLER: The standards suggest that slavery was only the third most important contributing factor to the Civil War, which we all know is ridiculous.
ISENSEE: Miller says at first, some publishers followed that - downplaying slavery and emphasizing state's rights. But after a long public review process and many complaints.
MILLER: Publishers have improved their books and made clear that slavery was the driving force behind the separation between the North and the South and the Civil War. So we're pleased about that.
ISENSEE: Revisions like that have shaped these books. Academics and activists, on the political right and the left, lobbied publishers and board members to make edits. Josh Rosenau is with the National Center for Science Education. He took issue with how climate change was represented in some of the books.
JOSH ROSENAU: They were saying that we didn't know what was causing climate change, or saying that scientists were divided about whether humans are responsible - and that's just not true.
ISENSEE: Rosenau says publishers fixed that too. And it's important to get it right, he says, because in the past, Texas has been a gatekeeper in the textbook market. But some believe that influence is fading, since so many states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, though Texas has not. Gates Bryant is with Education Growth Advisors.
GATES BRYANT: Publishers and developers of content are developing products for the Common Core market, primarily, and then for other states including Texas on a secondary basis - where in the past, it probably would have been the reverse.
ISENSEE: And that has put some Texas education leaders on guard to make sure they don't get materials designed for other states and other standards -they've actually outlawed the Common Core in Texas. For NPR News, I'm Laura Isensee in Houston.
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