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The Texas state board of education, which earlier this year stirred national controversy with its overhaul of social studies standards today narrowly adopted a resolution warning textbook publishers against infusing their materials with “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian distortions.”
The resolution was approved by a 7-6 vote by social conservatives on the board, who warned of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.
The resolution declares that a “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias has tainted some past Texas social studies textbooks,” and that the board should reject any future textbooks that favor one religion over another.
As an example of perceived bias, it cites one world history textbook that devoted “120 student text lines to Christian beliefs, practices, and holy writings, but 248 (more than twice as many) to those of Islam.” It adds that the book highlights “Crusaders’ massacre of Muslims at Jerusalem in 1099,” but the resolution cites massacres by Muslims that were excluded.
The Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group that’s a frequent critic of the board’s conservatives, argues that the resolution’s claims of bias are “superficial and grossly misleading.” The Texas Faith Network, which is affiliated with that group, organized an open letter to the board from interfaith leaders.
“[W]e write to urge you to reject the misleading and inflammatory resolution,” the letter says, calling it “a thinly veiled attempt to generate fear and promote religious intolerance, which as we have sadly seen before in history, can quickly lead to violence.”
Future boards that will choose the state’s next generation of social studies texts would not be bound by the resolution.
The Texas board, led by a bloc of social conservatives, has repeatedly found itself engaged in politically tinged debates, especially over the teaching of social studies and science. (“Debate Over Social Studies Shows Little Sign of Abating,” June 9, 2010.)
In an interview in advance of the meeting, Don McLeroy, a Republican on the GOP-controlled board who backed the resolution, said he believes world history textbooks have long failed to adequately discuss Judaism and Christianity and their importance in history. “This is bringing some needed focus on” those books, he said.
Critics note that the resolution refers to textbooks that are no longer used in Texas, as they were replaced in 2003. But Mr. McLeroy explained that the resolution deals with prior textbooks because board rules prohibit a resolution on the current textbooks. And he believes the perceived bias is still present.
Also speaking in advance of the meeting, Michael Soto, a Democrat vying for a board seat in November, lashed out at what he called a “pointlessly distracting, embarrassingly intolerant resolution.”
“If this narrow-minded resolution were being considered anywhere besides the Texas state board of education,” he said in a statement, “I would assume that I was reading satire rather than an earnest attempt at public policymaking.”
Jay A. Diskey, the executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, said that publishers “go to great lengths to create accurate and unbiased books, and there is no good reason for them to submit things that would be biased.”
He added, “However, textbooks have long been in the cross hairs in America’s cultural wars, and depending on one’s political and social viewpoints, one might find something in a social studies textbook” to dislike.
This is not the first time that the treatment of Islam in U.S. textbooks has come under fire. For example, a 2008 analysis issued by the American Textbook Council, an independent research organization based in New York City, concluded that history textbooks in U.S. middle and high schools generally present “an incomplete and confected view of Islam that misrepresents its foundations and challenges to international security.” (“Review Criticizes Textbooks’ Take on Middle East, Islam,” June 11, 2008.)
But the author of that report, Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the textbook council, distanced himself from the Texas resolution, saying he was troubled by some of the accusations included in the resolution. He wrote in an e-mail that the resolution “would be an object of ridicule and embarrassment for Texas and conservatives.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 29, 2010 edition of Education Week