The Guardians Who Slumbereth Not

Meet Mel and Norma Gabler of Longview. They want to tell your children what to read.

Nothing about the pinkish brick home on the oak-shaded street in Longview distinguished it from its neighbors or suggested that it housed one of the most controversial educational organizations in America. No marker, not even a doorbell plaque, indicated that this was the home of Mel and Norma Gabler and their nonprofit textbook-screening organization, Educational Research Analysts—though a construction-paper stop sign in the window, perhaps placed there by a grandchild, served as an apt symbol of the activities within. A neat young woman met me at the door, led me past a bookshelf crammed with copies of Reader’s Digest and National Geographic into a kitchen-family room, and introduced me to Norma Gabler, who was dressed in the weekday uniform of middle-aged Texas church ladies: a vested pantsuit with a polka-dot blouse. In a few moments Mel Gabler came in from another room, looking less like a celebrated educational gadfly than the retired Exxon clerk he is. I had seen their pictures and read about them for years, but it was still disarming to realize that this quiet man padding about in house slippers and this cheery woman carrying on about a device that makes one cup of brewed coffee—“It is the most amazing thing we have come up with”—are the same folk who cause textbook publishers to quake with anxiety, liberal educators to fume with indignation, and indignant conservative parents to regard them as heroes in the struggle against humanism, communism, evolution, and moral relativity.

We don’t censor anything,” Norma said, raising the issue I had planned to get into only after covering some less sensitive matters. “We don’t care what the publishers put out. We just don’t have to buy everything they put out. I don’t think that’s wrong. If you have a choice between books, why not get the best?” Critics of the Gablers dismiss that defense as sophistry, insisting that censorship is not defined by the point at which it occurs in the communication process. But whatever one calls their attempts to control or heavily influence the selection and content of textbooks that our children will use in school, the Gablers go about their work with such dedication, thoroughness, and persistence as to make plausible the claim by one censorship expert that they are “the two most powerful people in education today.”

Norma and Mel Gabler entered the field of textbook reform twenty years ago, after their son Jim came home from school disturbed at discrepancies between the 1954 American history text his eleventh-grade class was using and what his parents had taught him. The Gablers compared his text to history books printed in 1885 and 1921 and discovered differences. “Where can you go to get the truth?” Jim asked.

Well,” Norma told me, “I’m Irish, and that got my Irish up.” When the Gablers approached the superintendent, he explained that the school was permitted to purchase only those textbooks that had been screened and

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