Curriculum

Review Criticizes Textbooks’ Take on Middle East, Islam

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 04, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

Middle and high school history textbooks generally paint a positive or benign picture of Islam that tends to clash with confrontational images students might see or read in the news, says a review by the American Textbook Council.

Nearly seven years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, highlighted the need for Americans to learn more about the Middle East and Islam, there is more content on the subject, but publishers continue to fail in giving key topics careful and complete treatment, the review concludes. In some cases, they distort or censor information, according to the review of the 10 most commonly used texts that were adopted for use in California and available to schools nationwide.

“I’m still disturbed,” said Gilbert T. Sewall, the director and founder of the New York City-based council and the author of the report, who issued a similar review in 2003, just before the United States went to war with Iraq. The council was founded in 1989 to promote better-quality history texts.

The latest review covers new ground, such as the texts’ coverage of terrorism and contemporary issues in Islam. It was financed by the Searle Freedom Foundation, the Achelis Foundation, and the Stuart Family Foundation.

Students are still unlikely to get a full understanding of those issues as well as the historical context of the religion from the textbooks, the review finds.

“Deficiencies about Islam in textbooks copyrighted before 2001 persist [in newly published texts] and in some cases have grown worse,” the report says. “Instead of making corrections or adjusting contested facts, publishers and editors defend misinformation and content evasions against the record. Biases persist. Silences are profound and intentional.”

The review criticizes the texts, for example, for describing jihad, generally translated as holy war, as a sacred struggle for justice. Coverage of the Crusades, it says, paints Christians solely as “violent attackers” and Muslims as victims. Moreover, it says, students don’t learn about modern aggression among Muslim groups, such as between Sunni and Shia sects in Iraq.

Religious Sensitivities

The review compares content in the secondary school texts with accounts by scholars in what it terms “authoritative histories” of Islam.

The earlier review created an uproar among commentators and conservative groups for what they saw as its documentation of a turn toward politically correct curricula. A backlash also erupted among advocacy groups and scholars of Islam, who charged that Mr. Sewall had presented a view of the religion that emphasized fundamentalism over the peaceful observance they said most Muslims adhere to.

Some experts say the report has value, but may unfairly single out Islam as a problem in textbooks.

“I think the atc serves a very important function to highlight the deficiencies of our textbooks, ... and in a way, this report underscores how difficult it is to get [the teaching of religion] right in textbooks,” said Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center of the Washington-based Freedom Forum.

Mr. Haynes, who has written a guide to teaching about religion in public schools, agrees that textbooks generally “airbrush the negative” out of teaching about Islam, but they do so in their treatment of other religions as well, he said.

“Overall, public school curricula and textbooks are unfailingly kind and positive regarding religion,” he said. “Part of it is an age-appropriateness problem, part of it is a lack of time, and part of it is a bending over backwards not to offend any religious group, big or small.”

Mr. Haynes takes issue, however, with the tone of the report, which he says suggests Islam is an inherently violent religion. He has worked with groups, such as the Council on Islamic Education, that try to counter the image of Islam as an extremist religion.

The review suggests that such groups have exerted too much influence on the textbook-adoption process, pressuring state review committees to incorporate “doctored” versions of history.

“All religious groups try to use the textbook process to their advantage, and publishers and editors are in the business of quieting groups of all kinds,” Mr. Sewall said. “But I argue that Islam-related bias stands out, and that textbooks are scrubbing the subject, ... and students are getting a false picture of threats to the U.S. and the world.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 11, 2008 edition of Education Week as Review Criticizes Textbooks’ Take on Middle East, Islam

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Seamless Integrations for Engagement in the Classroom
Learn how to seamlessly integrate new technologies into your classroom to support student engagement. 
Content provided by GoGuardian
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum The Case for Curriculum: Why Some States Are Prioritizing It With COVID Relief Funds
States are helping districts select improved curriculum and integrate it into learning recovery strategies.
5 min read
Images shows a data trend line climbing high and going low.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Curriculum Many Adults Did Not Learn Media Literacy Skills in High School. What Schools Can Do Now
Eighty-four percent of adults say they are on board with requiring media literacy in schools, according to a survey by Media Literacy Now.
4 min read
Image of someone reading news on their phone.
oatawa/iStock/Getty
Curriculum Is Your School Facing a Book Challenge? These Online Resources May Help
Book challenges are popping up with more frequency. Here are supports for teachers fighting censorship.
5 min read
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Amanda Darrow, the director of youth, family, and education programs at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Curriculum Q&A These Teachers' Book List Was Going to Be Restricted. Their Students Fought Back
The Central York district planned to restrict use of some materials last year. Here's how teachers and their students turned the tide.
8 min read
Deb Lambert, director of collection management for the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library for the past three years, looks over the books at the Library Services Center on Sept. 25, 2015. When a flap occurs at the library, the matter becomes the responsibility of Lambert.
More districts are seeking to restrict access to some books or remove them from classrooms and libraries altogether.
Charlie Nye/The Indianapolis Star via AP