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Traditional definition of marriage restored to Texas textbooks

DALLAS (BP)–A stay-at-home mom who became fed up with the influence of “liberal-leaning groups” and unelected bureaucrats on textbook content developed a simple strategy for change.

State Board of Education member Terri Leo of Spring, Texas, argued that the agency must “uphold state law” in adopting proposed textbooks, compelling publishers to change language that tacitly endorsed same-sex “marriage” in secondary-level health books.

Texas is one of 22 states with a formal textbook adoption process, but because it is the second-largest buyer in the country, publishers typically accommodate changes proposed by the state agency. With a conservative-led SBOE majority influencing the final product, books that meet Texas standards often make their way into other states, extending the board’s influence.

When the State Board of Education met Nov. 4 to replace 11-year-old health textbooks, Leo presented a list of changes necessary for the agency to be in compliance with state law. The former public school teacher, who was elected to the board in late 2002, cited every suspect reference that put the textbooks at odds with the state’s definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman and a statute mandating an abstinence-based message in sex education.

Textbooks offered by Holt, Rinehart and Winston for middle schoolers and Glencoe/McGraw Hill for high school students “totally censored out any heterosexual definition of marriage,” Leo told Baptist Press. Earlier appeals to the publishers to include the definition of marriage based on Texas law were ignored, she said. “They did not want to change without board direction.”

However, “Publishers could sense on Thursday that things were not going in their favor. The board gave them a little direction,” Leo said, referring to their willingness to delay final voting in order to allow publishers time to offer changes. She withdrew her earlier motion seeking dozens of changes with the condition that the publishers would return with their own revisions. “If I found those acceptable, I would not bring mine up,” she recalled.

“I’ve never seen the national media fly in so fast,” Leo told Baptist Press. “The motion [to delay] was made and everything broke loose,” she said. “When we came back on Friday, they asked the board if they could make those revisions and the board gave permission to do that.” Leo’s motion to adopt the commissioner’s report to accept all health textbooks, including the corrections, passed 14-1. The lone dissent came from a Dallas board member who wanted more comprehensive information on contraception options.

With the addition of “a solid definition of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman” at the beginning of pertinent instruction in the Holt textbooks, Leo gladly dropped her concern that words like “partner” and “couple” could be misconstrued as references to same-sex couples. The Glencoe books traded “partners” for references to “husbands and wives” or “a man and a woman.” A passage that spoke of a person being “attracted to others” was changed to “attracted to the opposite sex.”

“We took an oath of office to uphold state law,” Leo said, “and state law defines marriage.” Because the SBOE is a state agency, Leo argued they must abide by the Texas of Marriage Act’s stipulation that the state “may not give effect to a public act, record, or judicial proceeding that creates, recognizes or validates a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union.”

The same reasoning motivated the board’s preference for textbooks that uphold abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, pointing to a 1995 Texas law mandating that abstinence be taught as the only effective means of preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

Left-leaning groups argue that the board ignored the need for teenagers to learn about AIDS and STDs, local Texas school districts are assigned responsibility for determining the content of human sexuality instruction, drawing upon recommendations of local school health advisory councils composed primarily of parents.

“It is not teachers and health experts, but parents who are picking the curriculum,” Leo said, “which is as it should be.” Texas law also gives parents the right to remove a child from any portion of sexuality instruction and opens curriculum up to inspection.

SBOE member Patricia Hardy of Weatherford and a member of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, told Baptist Press, “When the legislature did this, they said abstinence is the basis of all sex education programs.” What is taught is “left up to local school districts through health advisory councils,” she explained.

Hardy said she is pleased with the inclusion of additional resources in the teacher’s edition and a clear message on abstinence in student texts. “The books are very explicit about sexually transmitted diseases. The far left would have you believe all of that is left out,” she said, frustrated by the misrepresentation of their action in most media accounts.

One publisher agreed to remove a chart listing types of contraceptives while teacher editions retain such comparisons. The lone opponent of the textbook adoption motion expressed disappointment at the lack of extensive information comparing contraceptives.

Hardy reiterated that the adopted health textbooks are not the only resources teachers have available for the two to three weeks spent on sex education. While she and others pressed for updated information that accurately states the failure rate of various barrier protection methods, the Texas Education Agency’s legal counsel agreed that including the material in teacher resources satisfied state education standards.

Hardy also noticed an inaccurate statistic in one of the adopted textbooks that estimated the homosexual population at between 3 and 10 percent. The sales representative for the publisher pledged to review the accuracy of the reference which Hardy said should be between 1 and 3 percent.

While many parents traveled to Austin to convey their preferences as to how abstinence is emphasized, Hardy said most don’t realize the influence they can have on the local level through the health advisory councils. “Everything taught in sex education class is totally local option and each school district by law should have a health advisory council. That was a very smart move on the part of the legislature because sex education can be such a controversial issue,” she said.

Homosexual activists argued that the revised texts did not include information that might have given gay and lesbian students a sense of belonging, according to reporting by the Houston Chronicle. “The books talk about abstinence until marriage,” stated Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. “That’s not an option for gay and lesbian students. So they feel alienated.”

Leo countered: “There is nothing in the [approved] book that is derogatory toward homosexuality. I don’t think liberal New York publishers should be able to nullify Texas law,” she said, accusing homosexual activists of “misportraying” the board’s action.

She believes Planned Parenthood would prefer to make their case on the state level, putting more distance between the decision-makers and parents. “They are losing the battle at the local school district level,” she observed.

Planned Parenthood and other opponents also tried arguing that since state educational standards require that barrier protection be studied, the SBOE should adopt health texts that give students more than an abstinence message. If local school districts vote to teach lessons on other forms of contraception, resources are available in the teacher’s edition of the approved text.

Other objections by Leo went beyond the definition of marriage and an abstinence message. She asked publishers to state in teacher editions that homosexuals “are more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use and suicide,” according to the Houston Chronicle report. Another board member was successful in his call for updating a chart on the failure rates of various contraceptive methods.

“We’d like to have seen more changes,” stated SBOE member Gail Lowe, a community newspaper editor in Lampasas. “At least in Texas school children will know that marriage is between a husband and a wife.”

Texas became a battleground for textbook review during the late 1960s when Mel and Norma Gabler of Longview began independently assessing the academic content of books under consideration. Their volunteer efforts continue through an organization named Educational Research Analysis (www.textbookreviews.org) and prompted more conservatives to run for election to SBOE.

The Texas Education Agency offers the public a chance to review potential textbooks before panels and staff make recommendations and report to the SBOE. After public hearings that often draw hundreds to testify in the summer, publishers advise TEA of any revisions that are planned. The state board decides which textbooks are placed on the approved list recommended to local school districts.

Due to a 1995 interpretation of the state education code, the SBOE must confine its critique to factual errors, inadequate production quality and failure to meet Texas standards. Last year, Leo argued, “Without SBOE authority to establish general textbook contents standards, editors and publishers are unaccountable and allowed to pursue personal agendas.”

Now, with passage of DOMA and the abstinence instruction mandate, Leo based her objections on the failure of proposed textbooks to reflect Texas law. It’s an argument that may be used in other states wrangling with textbook issues as citizens define the terms of marriage.

“Going into the meeting, I did not have the majority of board member support,” Leo acknowledged. “However, board members run for re-election and the huge victory [by Republicans] on Tuesday factored into helping me garner the votes I needed.” Some board members endorsed her motion out of conviction, she said, while others responded to political pressure of their constituents.

“The numbers throughout the state are the same as around the country — people in America believe that a marriage is between a man and a woman,” stated Keet Lewis, legislative consultant for Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “Editorial committees and publishers need not carry their minority view political agenda into the textbooks of our children.”

While conservative Christians in other states often trusted a secular textbook that made it past the rigorous expectations of the Texas review board, there’s no guarantee that publishers will offer the same edition of the approved health text beyond the state. A spokesman for Holt, Rinehart and Winston told the Associated Press that the publisher does not plan to add its definition of marriage in books that will be sold outside Texas.

“This is an example of why it is important for the people in our pews, the public, our citizens to be aware of who they elect to state boards of education,” Lewis added. “This is a ‘down ballot race’ that rarely gets attention,” he stated. “However, it’s the power of a small number of people since it’s a relatively small committee.”

Yolanda McPherson, a public school teacher in Arlington, has seen homosexual activists influencing what children are taught with library books depicting two lesbians as parents of a child. When that scenario became the reality for a student in her elementary classroom, McPherson was careful “never to push my beliefs on anyone.”

The wife of a Southern Baptist pastor, McPherson said her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman is based on the Word of God. “There’s no leeway with me as far as that’s concerned. We have a lot of Christian educators, parents and students within the public school system and I don’t believe this is a time when we need to tuck our tails and run away. We need to be a little more vocal.”

Leo’s own motivation for getting involved in the fray is based on her faith in God. A member of an Assembly of God church, Leo said, “That’s what makes me strong. That’s what I rely on for strength and direction.

“Also, as a mom, when I tuck my kids into bed, how can I look in their faces and know I didn’t do anything when I could have? I know I’m doing the right thing for them and their generation.”

Having enrolled her own children in a private school, Leo draws questions from people who wonder why she seeks to influence public schools. “I could not in good conscience sit by and do nothing,” she stated. “We all have a stake in the next generation of kids. They’ll make the laws we’ll live under.”

Lewis encouraged Southern Baptists in other states to use Defense of Marriage Amendments or bans on same-sex “marriage” to insist on textbook content that reflects a definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“Our founders designed a ‘we the people’ form of government — citizen leaders,” he said. “This State Board of Education is absolute proof that citizen leaders have a voice and can speak with clarity on these issues.”

Leo described herself as the least likely person to have led the charge on the definition of marriage in school textbooks. “That’s the way the Lord does this. He’ll call you outside of yourself so you know the success is not your own.” Looking back on the recent election cycle, she added, “I think we saw that Christians who were sleeping are finally not going to take it anymore.”

    About the Author

  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter