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In Texas, a stand to teach 'abstinence only' in sex ed

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Presidential politics isn't the only realm where the Texas way prevails. As a heavyweight in the $4.3 billion textbook market, the state puts its stamp on materials bound for many of the nation's classrooms.

On Friday, two messages came through loud and clear as the State Board of Education voted on a new list of approved health books: That abstinence should be taught without any textbook discussion of contraception. And that the books should be explicit about marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Texas is one of 21 states with a centralized process to review textbooks, but it's the second-biggest market. "If [interest] groups can be successful in California and Texas in getting some restrictions as to what content is covered, that will have a major influence on textbooks that are sold nationally," says Martha McCarthy, chancellor's professor of education at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Everything from evolution to multiculturalism has come up for scrutiny in textbook debates over the past century. But the origin of the state-approval process dates even further back to just after the Civil War. Southern states organized to keep out textbooks that they saw as disparaging the Confederacy, so Northern publishers began sending separate books with more palatable references, like "the War for Southern Independence," according to a September report on textbooks by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington.

The report criticizes states that dictate what books schools can purchase, saying the practice "entices extremist groups to hijack the curriculum, and papers the land with mediocre instructional materials." Textbook publishing is ripe for reform, it argues, because students spend somewhere between 50 percent and 90 percent of class and homework time focused on textbooks.

In hearings before Friday's vote in Texas, the debate centered on the discussion of abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in four high school books. Protect Our Kids, a coalition of educators, health experts, parents, and religious leaders, raised concerns that three of the books don't talk about condoms or other contraceptives at all, while one mentions latex condoms briefly.

Instead, all the books teach that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent pregnancy or STDs. One offers strategies such as going out in groups, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and getting plenty of rest to avoid having "to make a tough choice when you are tired."

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