TN Textbook Bias Is In The ‘Eye Of The Beholder’

For the most part, the Tennessee Textbook Commission takes up one subject area a year. This year's is social studies. The commission looked at nearly 100 different textbooks and delayed final decisions after receiving pushback from activists. Enokson via Flickr

For the most part, the Tennessee Textbook Commission takes up one subject area a year. This year’s is social studies. The commission looked at nearly 100 different textbooks and delayed final decisions after receiving pushback from activists. Enokson via Flickr

Members of the panel that approves textbooks to be used in Tennessee schools say there’s no way to eliminate bias from the materials. Lawmakers are probing past decisions by the state textbook commission after activists raised concerns about religious bias.

Some parents have pointed out material that they feel is too graphic. Others have found problems with the portrayal of Christianity, though they find it difficult to point to specific passages.

State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said Monday it seems like the current approval process fails to ask whether a book is appropriate for the “morals” of Tennessee.

“I just want to make sure the textbooks we’re using reflect the culture of Tennesseans,” he said. “I think the majority of the people in this state would see things from a certain perspective.”

Bell also contends the commission has too many books to review to do their job effectively. As chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, he’s considering an overhaul to the panel.

One of the newest members of the textbook commission is Dan Lawson, director of schools in Tullahoma. He says bias in textbooks is in the “eye of the beholder.”

“There’s going to be a prevalence of bias in everything,” he said after testifying at Monday’s hearing. “No one – though – is going to have as much impact as the teacher in front of the classroom.”

Still, Lawson sees obvious problems. For one, he says he was given almost no training on how to analyze textbooks up for consideration.

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee will hear from some of the activists who’ve been combing Tennessee textbooks for problems.

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