Possible First Amendment Violation in California 7th Grade

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National Review Online, Feb 12, 2002


Teaching Islam What seventh-graders in California are learning about Mohammad & co.

Are California seventh-graders being proselytized by the state's public schools on behalf of Islam? Yes, says Jennifer Schroeder, mother of a San Luis Obispo seventh-grader, who has filed an official complaint with local school authorities over Across the Centuries, the social-studies textbook used in all the state's seventh-grade public classrooms.

"Our contention here is not that they're teaching students about Islam, which is constitutional as long as it's done in a non-biased manner. It's that they have a real bias towards Islam," says Brad Dacus, Schroeder's attorney and president of the Pacific Justice Institute.

Dacus is helping angry parents throughout the state file similar complaints with local school authorities. Their case got a big boost on Monday from noted Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, whose New York Post column attacked the 558-page history textbook as an example of "the privileging of Islam in the United States."

"Everything Islamic is praised; every problem with Islam is swept under the rug," Pipes writes. He further complains that the textbook presents a rosier picture of Islam than facts warrant, that it promotes Islamic doctrines as objective fact, and instructs students to engage in homework assignments in which they pretend to be Muslims.

But Across the Centuries publisher Houghton Mifflin counters that Pipes only has half the story. California's state-devised history-curriculum proceeds chronologically. Collin Earnst, a spokesman for the publisher, says that Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism are covered in the sixth-grade text, as mandates by state standards.

"The state of California decided what would be taught and when it would be taught," says Earnst. "If you look at both these books as a unit, they're fair representations of all these religions, and present them in a similar fashion."

That is not the view of one award-winning seventh-grade history teacher from the Bay Area, who asked NRO to withhold her name, fearing reprisal. The teacher explained that in California schools, the role of Christianity in world civilization is studied primarily in grades seven and 10.

"At no point in either grade is the role of Christianity as cogently, thoroughly or engagingly described in the state history texts as Islam," she says.

"Seventh-grade social studies covers 1,500 years of world history in nine months," the teacher continues. "Teaching this curriculum is a delicate balancing act because this is the only time in 12 years that most California students study these civilizations. Islam is important in world history, and should be presented accurately and engagingly. That does not justify the virtual obliteration of the history of Christianity and Europe in the state [seventh-grade] text."

That's putting it perhaps too strongly, but it is hard to understand why, in an American textbook in which the birth and expansion of Islam gets 55 pages, the Middle Ages in Europe get merely seven, and the Byzantine Empire six. By way of contrast, the story of the Umayyad Muslims is told in seven pages, and even more peculiarly for students in a Western culture, a chapter about "Village Society in West Africa" takes up eight pages.

To be fair, Across the Centuries does have a lot of ground to cover to be faithful to California's standards. Funny, though, how the textbook leaves out or greatly downplays state-mandated topics having to do with Christianity.

According to state teaching guidelines, the birth of Christianity is to be taught as the final topic in the sixth-grade school year, in a unit called "East Meets West: Rome." Yet attorney Brad Dacus says his client claims her son was told the reason Christianity wasn't taught in his San Luis Obispo history class was "they ran out of time."

The transmission of the Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire, decrees the state, is to be taught in the "Fall of Rome" unit. But Across the Centuries makes no mention of Christianity here, not even when it discusses the Emperor Constantine, whose battlefield conversion to the Christian faith was one of the pivotal events of Western civilization.

State guidelines call for Christianity to be addressed again in a unit on medieval Europe: "Special attention should be paid to Christianity in the Middle Ages because the Church, more powerful than any feudal state, influenced every aspect of life in medieval Europe. The story of St. Francis of Assisi should be told, both for his embodiment of the Christian ideal and for the accessibility to students of his gentle beliefs."

But in the seven pages devoted to the European Middle Ages, Christianity is presented not in terms of moral and theological belief, but almost entirely as a matter of power relations and social organization. How much space does Across the Centuries give to St. Francis of Assisi, a historical figure so important he merited special mention in the state guidelines? Ten sentences, plus three lines from one of his poems.

This bias against the religious content of Christianity extends into the unit on the Reformation, which gives short shrift to the theological ideas that inspired Protestantism, and focuses almost exclusively on the social and political fallout.

Critics of the textbook complain not only about what they consider its shortchanging of Christianity, but also about its uncritical assessment of Islamic history.

"The book talks about how Islam gave women rights, but nowhere does it teach that the Koran says a man is allowed to have seven wives. Kids should know that, because it's relevant to the religion and the culture," Dacus says. "They want to make Islam palatable to Americans."

And, Pipes and Dacus claim wording in the Islam chapters presents theological beliefs as historical facts.

This isn't entirely true. There are numerous passages that contain language like "Muhammad is believed by his followers to have...." But others are more ambiguous ("Muhammad was awakened one night by a thunderous voice [of God] that seemed to come from everywhere..."), and still others do in fact present theological belief as fact ("[T]he very first word the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad was 'Recite.'").

Even if Christianity and Judaism are presented in the sixth-grade text in a like manner, says Pipes, that hardly solves the problem.

"That would mean that a social science textbook series was looking at every religion from within," Pipes tells NRO. "That's pretty dubious. Here it's just plain boosterism."

If the Islamic chapters seem like they could have been written by a Muslim activist group, that's no accident. The California-based Council on Islamic Education, founded in 1988 to fight what the group believes is anti-Muslim bias in the classroom, works closely with textbook publishers to review and develop teaching material. The CIE, which didn't return a message left on its answering machine, participated in the writing and editing of Across the Centuries.

"They're very professional, very informed and they have at their heart the same thing we do, which is the desire for good, accurate information for the children," Abigail Jungreis, who oversees Houghton Mifflin's social-studies textbook division, told a Muslim web publication in a 1999 interview.

"We see our reviewers as playing a crucial role in enabling us to present accurate and complete information," Jungreis continued. "In this day and age, there's no way anybody can be an expert on all aspects of history or social studies subjects."

Jungreis did not respond to NRO's request for an interview. Instead, Houghton Mifflin spokesman Earnst replied, saying that members of other faiths were also consulted to review textbooks for fairness and balance.

The Bay Area social-studies teacher credits activism on the part of California Muslims for the way Islam is presented in the textbook. "The local Muslim community makes it a point to attend social-studies teachers' conventions to share teaching aids, and they also offer free guest speakers for the classroom."

The veteran educator says she sees these efforts paying off by the way her students, all non-Muslims, react to the Islamic faith in the classroom.

"They're generally very enthused by Islam," she says. "The prose [in "Across the Centuries"] is boring and disjointed in the sections about Western culture, but the book does a great job with Islam. And the Saudis have contributed well-written, lavishly illustrated free materials that are popular with students."

The Pacific Justice Institute's Dacus is not surprised to hear that kids come away from Across the Centuries thinking uncritically about Islam. Says Dacus: "That textbook would be a great recruitment tool for Islam for children, if that was the point of a 7th-grade education."

-- (Roland@hatemail.com), February 12, 2002


I heard something scary on the radio about a bill or proposition stating that teachers are the ones who know what's best for our children, and should be able to teach whatever they see fit. (??!!??) Anyone know details about this? Perhaps it's only California.

So then we have these teachers who would like to teach Islam, and those who would feed live puppies to the snake in science class and bite heads off of live birds in front of their students, oh and those who advocate abortion and teen sex...


-- (cin@cin.cin), March 15, 2002.

What's wrong with feeding live puppies to a snake? Would you rather have the snake starve to death? How heartless and cruel!!!

-- (save@the.snakes), March 15, 2002.

From Snopes concerning the original article:


[b]...there is something to what it said. Granted, that "something" is distorted and overstated, but the core element is present. [/b]

Links to the original WorldNetDaily article, and they pulled it from some Assist Ministries.

-- SteveOH (thegoofycat@hotmail.com), March 15, 2002.

Dacus is helping angry parents throughout the state file similar complaints with local school authorities. Their case got a big boost on Monday from noted Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, whose New York Post column attacked the 558-page history textbook as an example of "the privileging of Islam in the United States."

So? Daniel Pipes is a jewboy. He is kaffir; he is pig-dog.

-- (Ali@Somali.decapitationarium), March 16, 2002.

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