Can professors nationwide band together to battle the clout of Texas school boards? One professor, fed up with the influence of Texas educators on children's knowledge of sex and science, is trying to find out.
Sean G. Massey, the professor, got angry last fall, as he was reading about the latest skirmishes between textbook publishers and Texas school officials.
In one of its books, McGraw-Hill had agreed to change some gender-neutral passages about marriage to make marriage explicitly about a husband and a wife. The publisher also produced material that emphasized abstinence over other approaches to curbing teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Massey, an assistant professor of human development at the State University of New York at Binghamton, said he happened to look at his bookshelf and realized that he used McGraw-Hill texts in his courses, and suddenly that didn't feel right. "If they are compromising the health of gay people and young people in general, I felt awkward using their texts," he said.
So first he wrote to McGraw-Hill to complain. When that didn't lead to change, he started an online petition in which professors pledge to stop using McGraw-Hill texts until the publisher changes its policies. By following the lead of Texas officials, McGraw-Hill "signals its abandonment of a commitment to science, education, and to the welfare of the children it claims to serve. In bowing to political pressures you are negligent of your role in education," says the petition, signed by 539 faculty members as of Thursday evening.
Many of those who signed the petition also listed McGraw-Hill texts that they would no longer use.
Massey stressed that he had no problem with the college textbooks McGraw-Hill publishes. "They are really good books, but I can't in good conscience use them," he said.
With other publishers offering alternative texts, abandoning McGraw-Hill is a viable choice, he said. Knowing that poor health information can hurt young Texans justifies that choice, he said.
It is unclear what economic impact the boycott will have. Many of those who have signed up have done so recently, after their book selections for this semester would already have been made. But Massey said that he had used McGraw-Hill books previously in courses with class sizes from 20 to 100.
One of the books he used to assign was Social Psychology, a popular McGraw-Hill text by David Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College.
Myers said he was "a little sad" to learn of the boycott. He stressed his sympathy with Massey's concerns, and questioned what would be gained by people avoiding his books because of their publisher.
He said that with a large publishing house like McGraw-Hill, he didn't think it was fair to hold one division (college texts) accountable for the decisions made by another (elementary and secondary schools). The one time he faced a protest by a religious group over something he wrote in a McGraw-Hill book, Myers said, "McGraw-Hill did not hesitate for one second to defend my freedom as an author."
April Hattori, a spokeswoman for McGraw-Hill, said the company was aware of the boycott and was "open to talking to anyone about our textbooks."
She said it was important for people to know that the company only made some of the changes Texas officials requested, not all of them. But she said it was appropriate for the publisher to work with those officials. "Texas educators decide the standards that they abide by. They set the standards for what their kids should read," Hattori said.
On the question of using a boycott to protest those decisions, Hattori said, "People have their opinions on this issue, and we respect that."
Massey said he was not taking lightly the idea of asking people not to buy certain books, but he said that this is a health issue. Texas children "aren't going to wait" to have sex because textbooks preach abstinence. "They will simply get more sexually transmitted diseases and get pregnant." Similarly, gay people and supporters of gay marriage won't disappear because references to marriage are rewritten to focus on husbands and wives.
"My goal is to start a national conversation about this," Massey said. "I think it's terrible that primary and secondary education is having to conform to a vocal minority that happens to have taken over school boards and that has publishers pushing non-scientific, non-healthy information."