Can Minnesota mess with Texas textbooks?


In the world of textbook publishing, Texas is king. While most states, like Minnesota, leave textbook purchasing decisions to individual school districts, Texas buys books on the state level that fit their common state standards.

Because the state buys roughly 10 percent of all textbooks, publishers will write books to accommodate the demands of the Texas State Board of Education. They also kowtow to California, which has similar textbook-buying influence. The rest of the country follows their lead and chooses among textbooks approved by Texas or California politicians.

This makes the political will of Texas very important to education in Minnesota. The Texas board is currently debating social studies curriculum standards for its 4.7 million students, a debate textbook publishers are watching closely.

The 15-member board, which consists of 10 Republicans and five Democrats elected from different areas of the state, first debated whether hip-hop should be replaced with country-western music among arts movements to be studied in U.S. history.

That proposal ultimately failed, but the board did agree to replace the word “imperialism” with “expansionism” in a section about U.S. involvement in World War I. It also removed references to propaganda being used to influence the U.S entry into WWI.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram said debate in the past months included “whether figures like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall would stay in (the curriculum), what role the faith of the Founding Fathers would play, and whether enough Hispanic and other minorities would be included. … On Friday, a suggestion that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor be added to U.S. history standards failed after a discussion about her contributions and why she was being singled out.”

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in Texas spreads like a mudslide across the U.S. education landscape. Minnesota has no elected education leadership, of course, leaving education policy to the whims of the governor and legislature. Even if we did have a board that oversaw the purchase of textbooks for the state, Minnesota’s 825,000 students most likely would not make as big a dent in the textbook texts as Texas.

Even so, being behind Texas policymakers in educational philosophy is not a good place for Minnesota to be. Perhaps the next governor and education commissioner can address Texas’ educational expansionism. Or is it imperialism.