The eyes of US book publishers are once again riveted on Texas - the largest single purchaser of school texts in the nation. Last year, textbook sales in the Lone Star State topped $64 million. And as far as publishers are concerned, such a bounty hurdles corral fences and even state boundaries. What flies in Texas flies across the land.
What has flown in Texas for the past decade is what was known as an anti-evolution rule. Prodded by the pens and philosophy of creationists, this two-forked edict mandated that school texts dealing with the theory of evolution ''shall identify it (evolution) as only one of several explanations of the origins of humankind and avoid limiting young people in their search for meanings of their human existence.'' This rule further required evolution to be treated ''as theory rather than fact'' and ''in a manner which is not detrimental to other theories of origin.''
Fair is fair, said the creationists, backed by an impressive representation of fundamentalist Christians. Equal time, equal presentation: creationism and evolution.
In this case, fair is foul, insisted the scholarly community orchestrated by civil libertarians, holding tight to classroom separation of church and state.
What ''balanced treatment'' means in Texas and elsewhere where schoolbooks carry the Lone Star brand, decried science teachers, is the subjugation of Darwinian teachings in the classroom and the spotlighting or presentation of biblically inspired creation. Their proof lay in the galleys. Many publishers simply dropped evolution from their texts rather than get embroiled in political squabbles. Others drastically scaled down their Darwin coverage. Gerald Skoog, a Texas Tech education professor who surveyed biology texts across the United States from 1973 to 1983, found that the treatment of evolution had definitely declined - in some cases by as much as 79 percent.
However, this past March, Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox flatly stated that the 1974 rule was unconstitutional. ''The inference is inescapable,'' he concluded, ''from the narrowness of the requirement that a concern for religious sensibilities, rather than a dedication to scientific truth'' was the real motivation for the rules. The State School Board, under threat of a lawsuit by People for the American Way (PAW), a nationwide anticensorship lobby, capitulated to the Mattox opinion and junked the decade-old evolution disclaimers.