Houghton Mifflin Company has released a statement defending its “Across the Centuries” textbook against claims it skews history in favor of Muslims and presents Christians in a negative light.
WorldNetDaily was first to report that the claims, made by parents, have spawned a lawsuit against school districts. The Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization, is representing the concerned parents.
“Houghton Mifflin has always taken a neutral, fact-based approach to writing all of its educational publications, striving for a fair account of history,” the publisher states in its release.
WorldNetDaily reported last month that parents across California have raised objections to what they describe as in depth, promotional Islam studies being presented to seventh-graders in public-school classrooms as part of world history and geography. Students were asked to pretend to be Muslims with adopted Arabic names, offered extra credit for wearing robes and memorizing verses from the Koran, required to read verses from the Koran and learn the five pillars of faith of the Islam religion, and participated in a classroom simulation of a jihad.
“We can’t even mention the name of Jesus in the public schools, but … they teach Islam as the true religion, and students are taught about Islam and how to pray to Allah,” complained Elizabeth Lemmings, a concerned parent and teacher at Excelsior School in Byron, Calif.
Excelsior Principal Nancie Castro defended the instruction as “state-approved curriculum, using state-adopted textbooks” that “has been part of the instructional program in California for over a decade.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, the course instruction and homework, including mock-Muslim exercises, are recommended in the state-adopted textbook “Across the Centuries.”
“I started reading my daughter’s textbook and was astonished that nothing in the book resembled the history that I had been taught. It had all been distorted and rewritten,” parent Valerie Moore of Elk Grove, Calif., said. “No longer could the founding of America be traced through Judeo/Christian beginnings. … The history had been altered to now show that America had been given birth through an Islamic heritage. Everything sprang up through Islam.”
Parent Jen Schroeder from San Luis Obispo is among the plaintiffs in the Pacific Justice Institute’s lawsuit. While presenting a “white-washed version of Islam,” Schroeder asserts the textbook goes out of its way to depict Christianity in a negative light.
“In the textbook, there is a large three-column block titled ‘Understanding Religious Persecution,’ which blames Christians exclusively for persecuting others and forcing beliefs, when in fact there have been more Christian martyrs than any other religion,” says Schroeder.
Last week, Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes echoed Schroeder’s complaints in his New York Post column. Pipes attacked the 558-page history textbook as an example of “the privileging of Islam in the United States.”
Pipes takes issue with the “covert propagation of Islam” in the textbook: “Everything Islamic is praised; every problem is swept under the rug. Students learn about Islam’s ‘great cultural flowering,’ but nothing about the later centuries of statis and decline.”
Pipes also complains the textbook promotes Islamic doctrines as objective fact and presents a distorted image of Muslims: “Jihad, which means ‘sacred war,’ turns into a struggle mainly ‘to do one’s best to resist temptation and overcome evil.’”
“Learning about Islam is a wonderful thing,” Pipes writes, “but students, especially in public schools, should approach Islam in a critical fashion – learning the bad as well as the good, the archaic as well as the modern.”
In the company release, Collin Earnst, director of media relations for Houghton Mifflin responded to Pipes’ attacks, calling them “based on misinformation” and arguing, “Most of the accusations … made in Mr. Pipes’ editorial about omissions or interpretations of the text … are based on his own bias and his choice to cite passages out-of-context.”
Earnst explains that a “multi-cultural and multi-faith panel of scholars reviewed and approved ‘Across the Centuries’ before publication” and that the text is part of a two-book series developed for the state of California that covers specific topics mandated and outlined by the state board of education. As per California state standards, “the dawn of the major Western and non-Western ancient civilizations, including the origins of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity” are dealt with in the text used in grade six.
But one award-winning seventh-grade history teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, told National Review Online, that the role of Christianity in world civilization is studied primarily in grades seven and 10 in California public schools and that “at no point in either grade is the role of Christianity as cogently, thoroughly or engagingly described in the state history texts as Islam.”
Earnst further defends the textbook by explaining, “As directed by the state of California, these books were to be written with ‘Historical Empathy.’ Thus, the textbooks do not focus on accounts of violence, cruelty or hatred on the part of any religion. In accordance with California state standards, ‘Across the Centuries’ focuses on how the beliefs of certain cultures help shape their motivation and their effect on history.”
“The text does in fact mention instances of Muslim religious intolerance (chapter 4, page 81), just as it cites early missionary work and imperialism, as well as the Crusades and intolerance by the Christians,” Earnst points out.
According to Earnst, the meaning of the word “jihad” was “clarified” based on the recommendation of the multi-cultural and multi-faith panel of scholars (including Judaic and Christian scholars).
“Often misunderstood, this word means ‘to struggle or to do one’s best to resist temptation and overcome evil.’ … Many Americans have come to see the word ‘jihad’ as some Islamic fundamentalists use it, as a right or a mission to kill and destroy. However, the vast majority of Muslims do not share this view, and assert that a ‘jihad’ is not necessarily an act of violence,” said Earnst.
National Review Online reports 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.”
Schroeder disputes Houghton Mifflin’s defense of its textbook and remains steadfast in her view of the book: “‘Across the Centuries’ is a shameless example of how far a textbook company will go to pervert the truth and display it in a manner [that] would appeal and draw children into a violent religion. Under the banner of ‘tolerance’ they have completely rewritten a religion.”