December 21, 2004
RIP, Mel Gabler

Longtime conservative activist and textbook critic Mel Gabler has died at the age of 89.

Gabler, who died Sunday, was a conservative who emphasized accuracy and a Christian perspective in his critiques of children's schoolbooks. With wife Norma, he started reviewing classroom textbooks for accuracy and content after finding errors in one of their son's texts in 1961.

The Gablers founded a nonprofit Christian-focused group, Educational Research Analysts, to examine textbooks under consideration for adoption by the Texas State Board of Education.

"There's no way of knowing a total impact of it, but certainly publishers have had to exercise a lot more editorial responsibility than they would have if Mr. Gabler had not done the work he did," Neal Frey, a senior textbook analyst for the Gablers' group, said.

The Gablers met repeatedly with state board members and textbook publishers. They tallied an annual roll sheet of the number of factual errors found in history, math, science and other books each year.

The state in 1992 fined textbooks publishers about $1 million for hundreds of errors the Gablers found in 10 U.S. history books after publishers and the state had approved them. The couple had earlier questioned why, in one history book, movie star Marilyn Monroe received six pages while the United States' first president George Washington had only a few paragraphs.

Grace Shore of Longview, a former education state board member, said she didn't always agree with the couple, but "I think all of us looked at things more carefully because of the Gablers."

"They were the first, as far as I know, to try to get the textbooks to be better," she said.

Ginger says this softpedals the role the Gablers played as "political-correctness-checker from the right", and I have to agree. I saw the Gablers speak at Trinity while I was a student there, and their agenda was quite clearly articulated by them. Here's a great quote I found while Googling for more info:

Today, the tool of the censor is not only moral outrage, but a canny manipulation of the market. Mel and Norma Gabler are well known to anti-censorship groups for the textbook "hit lists" they compile and distribute to parents, librarians, and church and civic groups around the country. Working full-time, the Gablers and staff review and pass judgment on textbooks covering subjects from literature to biology to math. A special report from People for the American Way includes the following quote from Mel Gabler: "When a student reads in a math book that there are no absolutes, suddenly every value he's been taught is destroyed. And the next thing you know, the student turns to crime and drugs."

Mother always told me that math degree was the first step down the road to perdition. Clearly, I should have listened.

(First spotted, prior to the appearance of any wire report, at Kimberly's place.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 21, 2004 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

Speaking on behalf of everyone who ever worked for a textbook company, we will not miss him.

Posted by: julia on December 21, 2004 6:38 PM

Julia: You're the compassionate sort, huh? Maybe when you have a loved one pass away someone will say something similar. Who knows, maybe they'll even say it about you. Anyway, perhaps you shouldn't be so presumptious that everyone who ever worked for a textbook company is so lacking in compassion. I rather doubt it.

Posted by: kevin whited on December 22, 2004 6:41 AM

Kevin? Get stuffed.

I didn't say I'm glad he's dead. I said we wouldn't miss him.

Every textbook published in this country - that's _every_ textbook, since Texas is not only a huge market but is the leader for a large number of states - has been bowdlerized for years because this self-appointed Savonarola would make sure that no child ever saw it if it didn't reflect his profoundly ignorant know-nothing anti-education view of the world. Literally generations of children went into the world less prepared than they should have been because of the Gablers.

Perhaps that warms your heart into spasms of fondness. It doesn't mine. If Mr. Gabler had been willing to stop his destructive crusade without dying, I wouldn't have missed him then either. Sadly he wasn't.

If this conflicts you any, you should know that his influence over the Texas school system was severely limited by one Governor Bush, presumably under some pressure from his friends at McGraw-Hill.

Posted by: julia on December 22, 2004 8:16 AM

"The state in 1992 fined textbooks publishers about $1 million for hundreds of errors the Gablers found in 10 U.S. history books after publishers and the state had approved them.

[...]Grace Shore of Longview, a former education state board member, said she didn't always agree with the couple, but "I think all of us looked at things more carefully because of the Gablers."

"They were the first, as far as I know, to try to get the textbooks to be better," she said."

Correcting factual errors in textbooks is a bad thing? And how do you define "less prepared"? My guess is a whole lot of parents would strongly disagree with your definition of "less prepared," and are grateful that Mr. Gabler fact-checked textbooks.

So sorry he made your job harder.

Posted by: Anne on December 22, 2004 9:03 AM

Well, since they considered evolution to be a "factual error", I guess it all depends on one's perspective.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 22, 2004 9:56 AM

I've read about the Gabler's, their activities, and their worldview. I won't miss them, or their right-wing meddling in textbooks, not one bit.

Don't let the door hit yer ass on your way off planet Earth, buddy.

Posted by: Locutor on December 22, 2004 11:57 AM

I had a chance to see the Gablers in action at a health textbook adoption hearing. Holy Cow. The mildest term I can think of to apply to their rhetoric is "spittle-flecked." Fact-checking is a good thing, Anne, no question about it, but that was not their goal as far as I could tell. They were in the "the book does not wholly conform to our rather narrow world view therefore it is evil" business. I would have a low opinion of them if they were doing this from the left too, so it is not their conservatism that bothered me, just their sense of entitlement.

I do not wish death on anyone, not even Mel Gabler. I hope he passed peacefully and with dignity. Nevertheless, in his role as textbook critic, I will not miss him either.

Posted by: FHC on December 22, 2004 2:03 PM

Anne, dig a little deeper and check out Kuff's link. Eye-opening, to say the least.

As Kuff points out just below the excerpt you quoted, the Chron article "...softpedals the role the Gablers played as 'political-correctness-checker from the right'". I don't wish evil on this man, but I am glad his personal involvement in textbook selection is at an end.

Posted by: CrispyShot on December 22, 2004 4:23 PM

Well, Anne, perhaps if they had been able to hire proofreaders with the money they spent on having Texas school board consultants vet their books so their large investment in publishing a textbook wouldn't go down in flames because some old man freaked out at a picture of an infant taking a bath, their books would have been more reliable.

I'd practically bet on it.

Posted by: julia on December 22, 2004 9:35 PM

Obits I dig, but that Chron article was a whitewash and hagiography rolled into one. The Gablers had damn little to do with fact-checking and a hell of a lot more to do with censorship.

Maybe when you have a loved one pass away someone will say something similar. - Kevin

Kevin, was Mel Gabler a "loved one" to you? I'm sure that'll be interesting news to the folks over at BOR ;-)

And IIRC, self-proclaimed "conservatives" like yourself said far worse than "I won't miss him" when Sen. Wellstone was killed. So cut the faux outrage schtick, OK?

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 23, 2004 2:48 PM

I too wish to send Mel off with a cheerful "Good riddence to bad rubbish". If that makes me a mean, bad person then so be it. Unless you lived in Texas, and took part in the textbook battles that the Gablers always managed to make a painful experience, you have no idea just how damaging those two were to the education of the American Youth.

And for those of you that think these two morons were into fact checking (hang on while I wipe a tear of laughter from my eyes) these are the subjects Mel and Norma concerned themselves with, straight from their webpage:

Scientific flaws in arguments for evolution

Phonics-based reading instruction

Principles and benefits of free enterprise

Original intent of the U.S. Constitution

Respect for Judeo-Christian morals

Emphasis on abstinence in sex education

Politically-correct degradation of academics

Now stop me if you have heard this before, but that sure seems to be a list of right wing bullshit. Yep, not a whole lot of "fact checking" in that little list.

Posted by: Dominion on February 27, 2005 5:00 AM

Evolution is scientifically unlikely. It is merely the best explanation we have yet found with the information available to us, which does not mean that it is necessarily true (or untrue). Phlogiston theory was once believed to be correct, after all.

There are huge problems with start-from-scratch Evolution Theory (I swear that I remember hearing that somebody disproved "spontaneous generation" in the 1700's or so), so I choose to believe the far more likely scenario that some single-celled life forms accidentally traveled here on a meteorite- kinda like Superman, actually. :-)

And I'm *not* a troll. I just hate that people put too much emotion into their belief in science, when science itself calls evolution a THEORY.

Posted by: Justin on February 27, 2005 9:11 PM

Justin, get some education under your belt before you talk about "theory". In science, a "theory" is as high a certainty as you are going to get, because new facts can always come along and change it. It doesn't mean "we are only guessing". It means "this is the set of principles that best fit the observable facts."

Posted by: Emma on February 28, 2005 8:34 AM

All American textbooks are dumber as a result of the work of Mel Gabler. All education is more difficult as a result of that work.

So, Justin -- you didn't study evolution at all in school? You have Mel Gabler to thank for that hole in your education.

The entire textbook selection process is dysfunctional now, largely as a result of the hammering away at the foundations of knowledge started by the Gablers.

If a foreign power had done this to us, we would consider it an act of terrorism, some might say.

Posted by: Ed Darrell on February 28, 2005 11:27 AM

As someone who worked for Mel Gabler for several years a long time ago, I knew him and his wife better than any of you. They were not terrorists by any definition of the word that I have ever heard. As for how the textbook publishers felt about them, you are wrong. At first they were considered crackpots. By the time I worked for them, they were greatly admired even by many of those who didn't agree with them. One particular instance stands in my mind. They had been portrayed on the cover of a porn magazine in an insulting manner. That month at the Textbook meetings in Austin, numerous textbook people came up to them and expressed their anger at the portrayal. One even talked about chewing out people in his office who did think the portrayal was humorous. Did they have their enemies? Of course. But I recall even journalists who came to do "hatchet jobs" on them, but left with respect for them. One in particular left with a red face because he was embarrassed about some of the things the Gablers showed him in the texts. As someone who DID take part in the textbook process in Texas, I can tell you that the Gablers were NOT the only people there. People for the American Way, a liberal group started by Norman Lear, is always there. So are various women's groups, professional groups, teacher groups, etc. Just as all of these people did, the Gablers only utilized their right to participate by the rules laid down by the state of Texas. As for fact checking, you would be amazed at the some of the "facts" that end up in a textbook. You may not have heard about the errors at a textbook meeting because the speeches are limited by time and nobody wants to waste that time by reading out thousands of factual errors. The Gablers only asked for balance, such as Phonics AND other methods. Give the teachers and the students choices. In reviewing textbooks the Gablers always followed the guidelines set forth by the state. When making note of things found in the textbooks, the Gablers regularly showed HOW the specific sentence or line or whatever violated a specific part of the guidelines set forth by the state. Lastly, I hate to burst everyone's bubble but the main force at the textbook meetings is behind the scene POLITICS and I don't mean Republican vs. Democratic or conservative vs. liberal politics.

Posted by: Jackie on March 10, 2005 10:59 AM

Clearly, the Gablers acocmplished some useful fact-checking and they seemed to have been sincere people. That said, they also had a narrow world view and a fundamental interpretation of religion from which they developed definitions of the terms in the Texas textbook regulations.

I do not agree with their beliefs and I believe that some of their goals were in violation of the First Amendment. That said, it takes both sides to achieve balance in a democracy.

Get involved in the process. You also might want to read WHAT JOHNNY SHOULDN'T READ. If read to the end, it is a remarkably balanced discussion of this issue.

Posted by: Edith on December 10, 2005 10:17 AM