Mel and Norma Gabler make an annual pilgrimage to the state capital here, bearing hundreds of pages of detailed notes. Their mission: to rid school textbooks of material that distorts the Constitution, encourages evolutionary speculation, undermines the traditional role of the sexes and promotes secular humanism.
"The primary aim of education today is social change of the child, not . . . imparting facts or knowledge," says Mel Gabler. "That's why parents are on the warpath across the nation."
By now, the Gablers are celebrities in the world of textbook publishing, media stars who have appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes," suppliers of antitextbook ammunition to New Right organizations, and, suddenly this year, on the defensive against a well-organized counterattack.
"The Gablers have, in the words of several of our board members, captured the Texas textbook selection process," said Michael Hudson, Texas director of People for the American Way. "Our goal is to balance the process, to get other people involved."
The state of Texas is one of the top five textbook purchasers in the country, accounting for 5 percent of the $1 billion spent on textbooks annually. Because it is one of 22 states that select books statewide, what passes muster here sometimes sets a nationwide standard. For that reason, People for the American Way, an organization founded by television producer Norman Lear to combat the influence of the New Right, came to Austin last week to battle the Gablers at the annual hearings of the Texas State Textbook Committee.
"We're absolutely convinced that the Gablers are a significant part of the New Right's agenda for changing America," Hudson said.
"They're obsessed with us," Norma Gabler responded, saying at another point, "For Norman Lear to march in here with his million-dollar organization to fight two little Texans is just hilarious."
By all appearances, Mel and Norma Gabler are a quiet-looking couple from Longview in east Texas. Neither professed much interest in textbooks until 21 years ago, when their son complained about his American history book. He said it suggested that, under the Constitution, all power was lodged in Washington.
"Like most American parents . . . we ignored him," Mel Gabler said, until their son brought home the book for inspection. The Texas textbook selection process hasn't been the same since.
What began as a kitchen-table operation is today a $120,000-a-year organization known as Educational Research Analysts. The Gablers employ eight and use college professors to help review scores of textbooks that are offered each year to the Texas system.
The Gablers' research is used by the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and other conservative organizations.
"I would consider them coworkers -- and very credible coworkers," said Terry Todd, chairman of the Stop Textbook Censorship Committee for Eagle Forum.
How powerful they are is a matter of dispute.
Their work receives more attention nationally than anyone else's, and some publishers are alarmed at the Gablers' charges. "When I hear someone recommend book burning, it scares me," said one publishing representative.
But publishers say they edit their textbooks with an eye to acceptance in as many states as possible, not just to avoid attacks by the Gablers; one official criticized People for the American Way for distorting the issue this week.
"There's a great deal of misinformation being put out by them," said Donald Eklund of the Association of American Publishers.
Other observers say the Gablers do not exercise the kind of power attributed to them, that they are only the most visible people in a system that allows many to speak out.
"Speaking as an individual, I think the influence of the Gablers is greatly overestimated," said David Burton, president of the Texas Textbook Publishers Association.
Texas officials say a book may be kept off the state's list for a variety of reasons. Critics say the Gablers kept seven social studies texts from being adopted in Texas last year. In fact, of 13 texts offered, the Gablers objected to 11. Of the five selected, four had been criticized by the Gablers.
"I don't see this as censorship," said Grace Grimes, of the Texas Education Agency. "No books are banned in Texas."
"Texas has a very good process," said Judith Krug, director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. "There is the opportunity to express one's opinion. The Gablers found the mechanism a long time ago and utilized it to its fullest. Other groups are now utilizing the same process."
Each winter, the Texas Board of Education draws up the textbook proclamation, specifying subjects and grade levels for which books will be chosen and, in general terms, the content required.
Once selected, the books are used for six to eight years, a lucrative publishing contract, although Texas is not a make-or-break state, as People for the American Way have suggested.
"A success in Texas alone does not guarantee anything," said Richard Peterson, senior vice president of Scott, Foresman, and Co., adding that "losing in Texas does not mean the book is a failure . . . ."
The proclamation goes to about 400 publishers. This year about 180 texts were offered. Copies were filed in 20 centers around Texas for public inspection.
In the past, the process hasn't provided for people to express support of the texts, a situation People for the American Way hopes to change. This year, the group was allowed to file a written response to the Gablers. "Our purpose is not to get the Gablers out of the process. It's to get the citizenry of Texas to stand up to the Gablers," Hudson said.
Fifty-five groups or individuals registered objections this year, including several chapters of the National Organization for Women, a group that has succeeded in recent years in influencing textbook content.
The Gablers protested aspects of 45 texts. To one book describing the role of compromise in the relationship between parents and children, the Gablers said: "The term 'compromise' connotes bargaining and negotiation. To the contrary, the parent-child relationship is one of loving guidance and respectful obedience."
Other comments objected to a homemaking text asking students to list their strengths and weaknesses. An invasion of privacy, the Gablers said.
To a text that described the dual roles of parents called Mr. and Mrs. Kopec, the Gablers said, "The text is teaching change in traditional roles." The Gablers called a section of another text about pollution "an attack on our country and an attempt to instill guilt in children."
Publishers must file a written response to the specific complaints, and the entire record is distributed to the Texas State Textbook Committee prior to their public hearings. This year the record ran more than 2,000 pages in 10 volumes. The Gablers accounted for six volumes.
The 15 members of the textbook committee, teachers involved in the areas under consideration, serve only one year. Each has up to five outside advisers for each subject area. .
In September, the committee will recommend no more than five books in any area. The Texas Education Agency reviews the texts, and the state board of education makes the final selection in November. Local school boards then choose one of the five on the list.
Hearings last week gave the protesters a chance to voice their objections. But panel members did not appear intimidated.
"I feel everyone has a right to be heard," said committee member Onita Patrick, a music teacher in Irving. But of the Gablers she said, "I think they're trying to impose their values. We're trying to choose books for the whole state of Texas."