Culture wars are ruining kids' textbooks, UT chancellor says

By Sarah Coppola
Austin American-Statesman (Texas)
November 15, 2004

Political correctness and political haggling are ruining American textbooks, the keynote speaker at the Jewish Writers Forum said Sunday. University of Texas Chancellor Mark Yudof said that children are smarter than adults think and that they see through any attempts to shield them from controversial topics. Publishers, for example, now describe huts as "small houses." They also do not picture elderly people using canes for fear they will offend someone.

"Textbooks have been collateral damage in the cultural wars," Yudof said. Some schools refuse to have students read "Huckleberry Finn" because it contains racial slurs, for example, while forgetting that author Mark Twain also conveyed anti-slavery opinions in that classic novel. In an ideal world, Yudof said, librarians and teachers would select textbooks for use in classes, not school boards or state boards.

Public clashes over schoolbooks -- such as the recent fight over whether birth control should be mentioned in Texas health textbooks -- are corroding the ideal of public schools being above politics, he said. Too much input also makes for convoluted content, he said.

"Someone ultimately has to make the decisions about relevance and importance," Yudof said. "Without that, you end up with education-as-Internet, with blogs and sites and pages and no focus." Yudof was one of six speakers at the second annual forum, held at the Dell Jewish Community Center.

scoppola@statesman.com; 912-2939