As the 1980 school year begins, many parents and other lay persons are already at work helping select textbooks that will be used starting in September , 1981. More and more individuals are discovering that even one concerned citizen can influence textbook selection and are learning how to make their voices heard.
"Individuals are finding it increasingly difficult to speak up as individuals against things that are happening in this society," said Tom Garsh, president of American Book Company and McCormick-Mathers Publishing Company. "One of the last bastions of that occurrence happens to be the textbook selection process."
Norma Gabler of Longview, Texas, is known as the "unofficial 16th member" of the Texas State Textbook Committee for her self- appointed role as an arbiter of textbooks.
Several textbooks were banned in Charleston, West Virginia, after an acrimonious dispute that began when Alice Moore criticized some texts that she felt were un-American and profane.
To become involved in textbook selection, it is essential to know how your state chooses its schoolbooks. The 50 states follow two main patterns in selecting elementary and secondary school texts. Approximately half the states are "adoption" states. In general, a centralized committee at the state level approves or adopts books for use in the schools in that state. If a book doesn't make the adoption list, most adoption states stipulate that state funds cannot be used to buy it.
Open-territory states, on the other hand, are practically free of state laws governing text selection. Local school districts usually establish a committee to select books for use in each district.
Most adoption and open-territory states allow citizen participation at various points in their selection procedures. Hearings open to the public, for example, are common in adoption states. Local boards of education are a good source of information about the selection process a particular state uses and how citizens can participate.
A basic guideline for taking part in textbook selection is to read and study books being considered for use. Some states, such as Texas, require meticulous written documentation of objections and offending passages.
Involvement also requires some education in textbook purchasing to make for an informed vote when education bills are on the ballot. Most parents overestimate by 10 to 15 percent the amount of money spent on texts, one survey revealed. Although 95 percent of a student's time is spent working with textbooks, less than 2 percent of every dollar spent on education in the United States is for instructional materials. This amounts to about $14 per student a year.
Lay persons who are influencing textbook selection -- many of them women -- hold sharply differing philosophies. Conservatives are protesting over texts they feel are unAmerican, antifamily, profane, depressing, anti-free enterprise, and anti-creation theory. Liberals object to what they see as ethnic and sexist stereotyping and a lack of diverse roles for women and minorities in some textbooks.