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Textbooks, Part 1: Nuts and Bolts

Updated: May 24, 2021

Wake up and smell the textbooks, ladies and gentlemen!

Do you think about textbooks every day and twice a day on Sundays? No? We don’t either.

We assume some of them are better than others, but we tend to leave the intense textbook focus to professional educators.

But there are some activists here in Williamson County who are very, very, very interested in textbooks. They think some textbooks are dangerous tools of indoctrination. (See Textbooks, Part 2: Islam, Socialism, and Pornography)

But first, nuts and bolts:

Why are we talking about textbooks and how to choose them now? 

The school board will consider a new policy on textbook selection at its work session on Thursday, 11/13. The state law governing textbook selection was changed this year, and the new rules go into effect for 2015.

Back up. How does textbook selection work?

Under state law, the Tennessee Textbook Commission selects a range of options for textbooks in each particular subject. Different subjects are reviewed each year. Local school boards then pick their selections from among those approved by the state commission.

Okay. So what’s new and different? 

In 2013, the state legislature (spurred on by Williamson County’s own textbook activists, among others) changed the way state and local textbook adoption works. At the state level, the new state law (TCA 49-235-47) added “bias” as a criterion for selection. The law also added three layperson slots to the TN Textbook Commission itself.

The new state law also changed the requirements for local textbook review and selection. In particular, it changed the guidelines for who is eligible to serve on the local selection committee.

“You guys are our watchdogs. You are our vigilantes. You have the power to make a change.” – Candy Emerson, 6/19/13 WSMV “Parents, activists push TN lawmakers for changes in textbooks”


So who is on the local textbook review committee?

The local committee hasn’t been appointed yet. The school board first needs to adopt its own guidelines given the new state law. The new law says that local textbook committees will include the following voting members: 1) Teachers with at least 3 years of teaching experience, 2) Supervisors of teachers, and 3) Parents with children enrolled in the district. The board can also appoint college professors whose expertise is the subject area to be reviewed.

Should school board members serve on the textbook committee?

Some board members, including Jay Galbreath, Mark Gregory, PJ Mezera and Dan Cash, argued that board members should be allowed to be on the committee, at least in a non-voting capacity. Dr. Looney, Rick Wimberly and Gary Anderson argued it could have a chilling effect on the professional educators who are charged with the task. The board backed off the idea of board members sitting on the committee. However, the board can request updates of the local textbook review committee at any time.

The local textbook committee selection guidelines will be reviewed one final time at the work session on 11/13 and will be voted on at the board meeting on 11/17.

Additional questions

  1. Why would non-subject matter experts and non-educators be on a textbook committee?

  2. What/who are the textbook activists and what are their concerns?

  3. At least one of the board members said she ran for school board because of the textbooks. Why?


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