Local school board members across the country recently were mailed materials charging that leading U.S. textbooks reveal a pattern of “historical revisionism, omissions, and bias in the treatment of Islam” that may give students an overly favorable view of the religion.
The report from ACT! for America Education—a nonprofit group that describes itself as seeking to expose the “multiple threats posed by radical Islam"—details a long list of concerns. For instance, it says that the doctrine of jihad is omitted, incorrectly defined or understated; that students are provided a faulty description of women’s rights under Islam, and that the Islamic slave trade is typically omitted or minimized. The report also says many textbooks fail to identify the terrorists who perpetrated the September 11, 2011, attacks as Muslims or Islamic Jihadists.
“Our research shows that textbooks commonly used in public schools today lack objectivity and accuracy in their treatment of Islam, amounting more to indoctrination than education,” said Brigitte Gabriel, the group’s executive director, in press release.
The group sent a summary of the report to more than 70,000 school board members this month. The report examined 38 history and social studies textbooks for grades 6-12 published between 1999 and 2011.
But Jay A. Diskey, the executive director of the school division of the American Association of Publishers, questioned the merits of the report.
“The report is faulty and misleading because it is by and large based on a study of old books,” he said in an email. “In addition, the report fails to recognize three factors that come into play with delivery of any social studies content and those factors are context, emphasis, and interpretation.”
He added: “Textbooks, especially in the social sciences, comprise tens of thousands of facts, theories, and interpretations, but before a child picks up that textbook to study a lesson, its content has been read and scrutinized by a multitude of highly respected and knowledgeable authorities.”
The New York Times published an unflattering profile last year of Gabriel, saying she presents “a portrait of Islam so thoroughly bent on destruction and domination that it is unrecognizable to those who study or practice the religion.”
In any case, this is not the first time the treatment of Islam has come under scrutiny in textbooks. A 2008 report from the American Textbook Council argued that the religion is given an overly benign handling in many social studies textbooks. Also, the Texas state board of education in 2010 passed a resolution warning textbook publishers against infusing their materials with “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian distortions.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.