Amid questions brewing for months over bias and accuracy in student textbooks in Williamson County, state lawmakers are beginning to mull whether they should tweak how a state panel reviews textbooks.
The Tennessee Textbook Commission is now overwhelmed with the volume of the task at hand, and lawmakers are hoping to hold hearings in the fall to consider how to address the problem.
“Am I concerned about what I think is bias in the textbooks and factual errors in the textbooks? Yes,” said Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), the chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “My biggest concern is that we get somebody in this process who is specifically looking for factual errors and bias, but there are many more problems besides that.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed the Textbook Commission is overwhelmed during a joint Government Operations subcommittee hearing Wednesday. Bell said he plans for lawmakers to come back in the fall to consider methods of alleviating that stress.
“It’s a broken system. They cannot do the job that the legislature charged them with years ago,” said Bell.
The debate began in earnest last December after an uproar in Williamson County over a textbook titled A Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography, 10th Edition, written by James Rubenstein. The book is used in a human geography class, an international elective which is also an Advanced Placement course.
A band of parents actively questioning the text say the book is written with biases that don’t reflect Western values.
“If a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?” reads one question raising concerns for parents in the district.
“It’s not just this textbook,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a Williamson County parent has been vocal calling that question and others like it “blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric.” She provided the legislative committee with 17 additional titles of textbooks used in Tennessee with what she described showed similar biases.
“We want these textbooks removed, we want better vetting. There’s got to be more transparency. As I understood the process here, parents don’t get to have any feedback,” she said, adding parents should have seats on the textbook review panel.
Bell said he wants to arrange hearings in the fall in conjunction with the legislature’s education committee members to discuss how to improve the state’s textbook review process. The expectation, he said is to introduce legislation next year to make those changes.
Meanwhile, lawmakers on the subcommittee voted to recommend the full committee renew the Textbook Commission for another year.