chapter  16
21 Pages

Textbook Content and Religious Fundamentalism

ByEUGENE F . PROVENZO , J R .

The content of textbooks is a highly sensitive issue in any culture. They serve as one of the most traditional means by which a society preserves its values, traditions and beliefs. More often than not, they mirror what is considered acceptable or unacceptable by the society at large. Ultimately, they are a reflection of the culture for whom they are written.1 During the 1960s, largely as a result of the impact of the Civil Rights Movement, special interest groups lobbied successfully to eliminate racial and sexual stereotypes from textbooks. While the efforts of these groups have diminished in recent years, pressure has increased from ultra-fundamentalist organizations such as the Moral Majority, Phyllis Schafly’s Eagle Forum and others who are concerned with the value and belief systems that are emphasized in the textbooks widely used in the public schools of the United States. Ironically, the success of the liberal activists during the 1960s and 1970s in changing the content of textbooks contributed significantly to the development of an ultra-fundamentalist countermovement. It is important to remember the extraordinary social and curricular changes that have taken place in America’s public schools since the early 1960s. In rural areas, small schools have often been replaced by large consolidated systems. Radical changes in traditional course content were introduced into almost every area of the school curriculum. In social studies, for example, students were encouraged through techniques such as the Inquiry Method to discuss and debate ideas rather than simply memorize historical facts and interpretations. For the first time courses in sex and drug education were introduced into the schools on a wide-scale basis. Innovative math and science curriculums-often highly controversialwere also introduced. For many ultra-fundamentalists even the best of the new curriculums were seen as being anti-family, anti-God, anti-government and immoral.2 Major social changes were taking place in the schools as well. Racial integration became widespread throughout the country as the federal government began to enforce the 1954 Supreme Court decision that segregated schools were inherently discriminatory. The Viet Nam War radicalized many students and teachers. American culture went through as profound and gut-wrenching a period of social change as any since the Civil War. For many people a traditional and comfortable society was lost. The new society that emerged in its place denied the superiority of the White Race and of Men over Women. It questioned our military might and the foundations of much of our culture’s traditional wisdom and knowledge. A backlash against these changes from the fundamentalist Christians was perhaps inevitable. Ultra-fundamentalist critics began to develop coherent critiques of the public schools on a number of different levels. Of particular concern to them was the curricular content of textbooks, a topic which has become most closely associated among the ultra-fundamentalists with Mel and Norma Gabler of Longview, Texas.