Through last week’s headlines, you can mourn the loss of a great newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, which will go the way of FOX News, with Bill O’Reilly doing guest editorials. Or, you can argue over whether Michael Moore’s “Sicko” is over the top (of course), instead of whether its message is on target (yes, once again). But, you may have missed the week’s most important death, especially when it comes to President Bush’s infamous question: “Is our children learning?”
Norma Gabler died July 22 in Phoenix, Ariz., at age 84. Who on earth is Gabler, you ask? She and her husband, Mel, were the most powerful force in textbook publishing, even though neither was an academic or graduated from college. They had something better than a degree. They had the great historian Jesus on their side.
From their Hawkins, Texas, kitchen, a hundred miles east of Dallas, Gabler was the brain trust of a mom-and-pop powerhouse operation that could decide what Texas schoolchildren would read ” the second-largest textbook market in the country. For more than four decades, after being horrified when their 14-year-old son discovered that the words “under God” had been omitted from the Gettysburg Address, the Gablers launched Education Research Analysts, and successfully persuaded (or threatened) publishers to remove material they considered anti-family, anti-American and anti-God.
What these heroes of the Christian right discovered is Texas has the power to be a national template, with one state board choosing textbooks for the state, and setting the standard for 20 other states. If a book got rejected in Texas, cost considerations meant it might not be published at all. This set the stage for the Gablers to become the un-appointed, unelected censors of textbook publishing.
Gabler was a cool, precise, ruthlessly moralistic crusader who insisted that textbooks contain more morality, and more praise for free-enterprise economics ” clearly God’s chosen form of doing business. When it came to evolution, she insisted that weaknesses in the theory be included in the text, and alternative “theories” (like intelligent design) be added.
The Gablers also found errors in textbooks, and Lord knows we all need a good editor. But their real agenda was ideological. They insisted that no textbook define marriage as other than the union of “one man and one woman,” and rejected any definitions of American history that were too negative. They objected to an Edgar Allen Poe story, calling it gruesome, and were outraged that the Vietnam War and Watergate were given such prominence, as well as Marilyn Monroe. As for Robin Hood ” was he a hero, as the text claimed, or a dangerous income-redistribution advocate?
With their enormous voting block and righteous rhetoric, the Gablers became “the most effective textbook censors in the country,” according to a National Center for Science Education publication. For the last 30 years, our textbooks have been sanitized, altered and even revised to fit the wishes of a Texas couple who knew what kids “ought” to know, and what would corrupt their little brains.
The sad fact is that a whole generation has now grown up reading pseudo history, a red-white-and-blue rendering of God’s chosen nation, instead of learning the hard lessons of our disastrous mistakes, as well as our inspiring successes. No Christian moralist should be allowed to tell us what our kids can read, or what version of reality is real. We have enough of that in the White House, from a chicken hawk who skipped the lessons of Vietnam altogether. A longer section would have helped him, as well as a strict attendance policy.
Meyers is senior minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, author of four books and professor of rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. He is at work on his next book, “Raising Yeshua: Christianity as Enlightenment, not Salvation.”