IFAS | Freedom Writer | March/April 1991 | textbooks.html

Groups unite to ban textbooks

Impressions, an elementary school reading series which focuses on the whole language approach to language skills, is the subject of angry criticism by a broad spectrum of radical religious right groups. These irate groups include Focus on the Family, the National Association of Christian Educators/Citizens for Excellence in Education (NACE/CEE), the Rutherford Institute, Concerned Women for America (CWA) and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum.

The Impressions series is published by Holt Rinehart and Winston of Canada, and marketed in all 50 states by its parent company Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich (HBJ). Lawsuits and parental protests have sprung up in 400 school districts (out of 17,500 nationwide), including New York, South Dakota, California, Alaska, Illinois, New Mexico, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina. (It is worth noting that NACE/CEE maintains CEE cells (Citizens for Excellence in Education watchdog groups) in 400 school districts.)

CWA reported that its members in South Dakota have been battling Impressions because of its occultic and violent themes. Betty Schroeder, CWA's prayer/action chapter leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, determined that this battle needed to be fought on the spiritual plane. So, she recently organized a three-hour prayer meeting specifically targeting Impressions.

The Associated Press reported that in Lakewood, New York, the Edingtons are among 14 parents who are trying to remove Impressions from the third grade of the Southwestern Central School District because the series contains references to witches. The Edin gtons, who are fundamentalist Baptists and born-again Christians whose morals and values "are based on God's word from the Bible," are concerned that these references may encourage devil worship. The group to which the Edingtons belong has circulated peti tions and has received 525 signatures backing their stand. One hundred forty supporters of the ban recently attended a school board meeting to voice their objection to the series.

Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine reported that in North Carolina, State Senator Connie Wilson led a successful campaign against the series and stated: "After reviewing the material, I was astonished and disgusted. It's bad enough that childre n are exposed to this type of thing on television, in the movies and newspapers." Wilson helped persuade both the North Carolina Textbook Commission and the State Board of Education to vote against the Impressions series.

The stories are similar in other states. Fundamentalist parents are objecting to public school textbooks which are inconsistent with their religious beliefs. There was a similar case in 1986 when Christian fundamentalist parents in Hawkins County, Tenness ee, claimed that the public school language arts textbooks, the People Need People series, also published by HoIt Rinehart and Winston, violated their religious beliefs. The federal court in Tennessee allowed fundamentalist children to "opt out" of classe s which dealt with subjects with which they disapproved.

Anson Franklin, corporate communications director for Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich (HBJ), told the Freedom Writer that while the parent protests have "caused a lot of difficulties," they have "not made a real impact." He added that the radical right 's claims of success in banning the Impressions series were exaggerated. For example, he cited a claim in the NACE/CEE newsletter, President's Report, which stated: "The publishers have now agreed not to reprint the Impressions series. It's over th ey claim. However, they say they will try to sell the current stock on hand, if possible. So watch out! It's a deadly, occultic reading series that can permanently harm your child."

This claim, Franklin told the Freedom Writer, is simply untrue; HBJ will continue to publish the Impressions series. Furthermore, he said, HBJ has sent the NACE/CEE a letter requesting that it stop spreading false information about the publication of the Impressions series.

Anson noted that of the 400 districts in which Impressions has faced controversy, there have been active protests in about ten percent of those school districts. Out of that ten percent, or 40 districts, have had formal challenges to the series. Of those 34 district challenges, only two and a half school districts have opted to ban Impressions from its classrooms. (The reason for the one-half school district is that one district opted to continue the Impressions series for K-3, but discontinue the series for grades 4-6.)

While some of the material receiving opposition from Christian fundamentalists has stories about magic, and a witch or two not unlike Hansel and Gretel there is more to this controversy than meets the eye. Some of the groups opposing the reading serie s distribute a book called NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education by Samuel L. Blumenfeld. The book labels the National Education Association (NEA) as the most dangerous organization in the United States. Why?

Christian fundamentalists are attracted to various and recurring conspiracy theories. Remember the Proctor & Gamble (P&G) logo conspiracy theory? Some fundamentalists spread rumors that the P&G logo was a satanic symbol. To placate its fundamentalist mark et, P&G embarked on a plan to alter its logo gradually.

The Impressions whole language textbook series controversy is another good case in point. The premise of NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education is quite astounding. According to Blumenfeld, a conspiracy to create a socialist government exists in American education and the N ational Education Association in particular and teachers "have been deliberately trained to produce functional illiterates."

"The socialists have told us over and over again" says Blumenfeld, "that the schools must be used as a means to change human nature so that a socialist society can be brought about." To do this, he reasons, a spirit of social cooperation must be created a mong students socialism demands a strong sense of interdependence. High literacy, however, the author maintains, is an obstacle to socialism because it leads to greater independence. That is why, according to Blumenfeld, the NEA deliberately creates fun ctional illiterates and reading disabled children.

Illiteracy, according to the religious right, is the result of the whole-word/look-say method of teaching reading skills. Phonics, in their opinion, is the only acceptable technique of teaching reading. "Back in the 1930's," Blumenfeld says, "dyslexia was unknown and there were no functional illiterates or 'reading disabled' children." While there is serious question as to the validity of this statement, Blumenfeld attributes the absence of reading problems to the teaching of reading through phonics.

According to the radical religious right, the whole-word/look-say method of teaching reading skills is part of a conspiracy to create a socialist society. Opposition on religious grounds, to some of the stories in the Impressions series, might be understa ndable. However, by claiming that the series is occultic, the religious right has devised a clever subterfuge for stirring up opposition to the series.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.