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Gabler, leader in textbook accuracy, dies

PHOENIX (BP)–From her Dallas-area kitchen table, Norma Gabler was a pioneer in challenging the content of school textbooks, emphasizing the need for family values and accuracy. She died of Parkinson’s disease July 22 in Phoenix at age 84.

Gabler, along with her husband Mel, founded Educational Research Analysts, a conservative Christian organization that reviews public school textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas. Mel Gabler died in 2004.

Because Texas sets the standard in textbook adoption nationwide, the Gablers for more than 40 years influenced what children read around the country.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Norma and Mel Gabler were “classic illustrations of the fact that in the United States of America under our system of self-government — a government of the people, by the people and for the people — individual citizens can make a real difference if they will exert themselves to challenge elements of the system that they think have gone awry.”

The Gablers’ story began in their Hawkins, Texas, home in 1961 when one of their sons, James, had to memorize the Gettysburg Address, The New York Times recounted Aug. 1. The words “under God” appeared in an encyclopedia photo of the Lincoln Memorial but were omitted from the text their son was to study.

Convinced few parents ever read the passages their children were assigned, the Gablers dove into reading textbooks with what they called “prayer, preparation and persistence.” When they found errors and misrepresentations, they reported their concerns at local PTA meetings. From there, they traveled to the state capitol in Austin once a year to voice their objections.

“Here was a nice enough Christian couple with none of the things that the world would associate with power and prestige,” Land said in a statement to Baptist Press, “and yet they literally challenged the entire massive textbook industry in the public school systems of the United States and, by challenging it, made it better and more sensitive to the concerns of tens of millions of ordinary Americans. All concerned citizens of this country should draw inspiration from the story of Norma and Mel Gabler.”

Neither of the Gablers were college-educated, but Norma Gabler in particular was known for her careful, precise diction in testifying at textbook hearings.

“The Gablers had a two-barreled strategy: in addition to pressing issues of ideology, interpretation and philosophy, the Gablers ferreted out errors of fact,” The Times said. “In 2001, Time magazine reported that their ‘scroll of shame’ of textbook mistakes since 1961 was 54 feet long. In the early 1990s, Texas fined publishers about $1 million for failing to remove hundreds of factual errors the Gablers had found in 11 history books.”

Among the issues that were important to the Gablers was the definition of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman, The Times noted. They also pushed for more instruction in morality, free-enterprise economics, phonetics and weaknesses in evolutionary theory.

Texas is one of only 20 or so states where school textbooks are chosen by the state board of education, and of those, only California is larger. Because of the cost of printing multiple editions of textbooks, The Times explained, the edition chosen for Texas often becomes the only edition available nationwide.

Publishers often were willing to make changes in order to please the Gablers, The Times said, because they had much to lose if Texas rejected their books. Some publishers even sent their textbooks to the Gablers before the approval process started so they could learn about the couple’s objections ahead of time, James Gabler told the Longview News-Journal in Texas.

The Gablers were married for 62 years and had two sons, James and Paul, and six grandchildren.

A funeral service was held in Longview, Texas, July 28.
Compiled by Erin Roach, with reporting by Tom Strode.

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