Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Textbook trickery

WorldNetDaily recently ran an article about a parent in the Sacramento area who took umbrage with a history textbook that is being used in the local area, and throughout California. The parent's complaints concern the way Islam is presented in the 7th grade edition of the History Alive! textbook, which is published by the Teachers' Curriculum Institute, also known as TCI.

This article quickly grabbed my attention because
a) I teach 7th grade world history, which includes the unit on Islam, and
b) I teach with a History Alive! textbook, albeit the U.S. History edition with my 8th graders. My 7th graders use a text from Glencoe/McGraw-Hill.

WorldNetDaily quotes the parent thus:
I was disturbed probably the greatest portion of this book is about Islam. It goes into the doctrine of Islam in detail," she said. "There are 35 chapters. Out of those, I counted at least seven [that focus] on Islam..."

"I am very troubled that in the name of tolerance and educating American children about the Muslim empire in history they get away with giving beginning Islamic teaching which may cause many to perhaps one day become Muslims...."
Although I don't use this 7th grade History Alive! book in the classroom, I do happen to possess a copy of it. We went through textbook adoption last year, and the different publishing companies often sent us teachers samples of their textbooks and supporting materials. TCI sent me the 7th grade textbook and the interactive student notebook that complements the text. After flipping through the chapter pages on Islam, I verified the passages quoted in the WorldNetDaily article and found other quotes and passages that I find rather disturbing. First and foremost, I share the parent's concern over the whitewashing engaged in by TCI in defining and describing Jihad.

In Chapter 9.9, Jihad is simply defined as "to strive." They then go further:
Jihad represents the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that would be pleasing to God. Muslims strive to respond positively to personal difficulties as well as worldly challenges. For instance, they might work to become better people, reform society, or correct injustice.
Whoa! Do you honestly believe that this would be the same definition that you would receive from the terrorist group known as Islamic Jihad? Their idea of "responding positively to personal difficulties", "reforming society", and "correcting injustice" is to blow up women and children and slash innocents' throats just to put the fear of Allah into people. How about the bombings and killings that Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were "striving" to commit, and whose exploits have been immortalized in the Muslim world? How about the current jihads in Thailand and the Philippines, where Muslims are killing people left and right in an attempt to establish sharia law in those countries? I saw no mention of or allusion to those situations in this textbook; just a total whitewash of any modern day excesses or concerns about the state of jihad around the world.

Almost the entire Chapter 9 is dedicated to just describing the five pillars of Islam, with each pillar being given its own sub-chapter. Had I written the book, I could have easily fit descriptions of all five pillars into one sub--chapter. Having a sub-chapter for each pillar heavily reeks of overkill.

I also take issue with the apologetic way in which the chapters on Islam are written. One example that caught my eye is found in Chapter 8.8, which describes the Umayyad Dynasty. For those of you who don't know Muslim history very well, it was the Umayyads who spread Islam through the sword across North Africa, into Spain, and then into France, all within less than 100 years after the death of Muhammad. That's right, you cursors of the Crusades, the Muslims invaded western Europe three hundred years before any crusading European set foot in the Holy Land. Here is the quote from the book:
In 711, Muslim armies began their conquests of present-day Spain. However, at the Battle of Tours in 732, enemy forces under the Frankish king Charles Martel turned the Muslims back in west-central France. This battle marked the extent of Muslim advances into Europe.
It's the little words that matter. Notice how the narrative was turned around so that the invading Muslims are simply "Muslim armies", while the Franks - who were defending their land - were the enemy forces? And I don't see the word "invasion" or "conversion" anywhere in that passage. Instead, the Muslims "began their conquest" of Spain, and even better, going into Spain and France were Muslim "advances" into Europe. Anything to take the sting out of the fact that these Muslim armies were in Europe to convert Europeans to Islam, or make them submit to Islam in dhimmitude.

Which brings me to my final example - and its a whopper - of the obfuscations presented as facts in these Chapters on Islam within the History Alive! textbook. Going back to Chapter 9.9 (which describes Jihad), you find this tongue-clucker:
Early Muslims considered their efforts to protect their territory and extend their rule over other regions to be a form of jihad. However, the Qur'an forbade Muslims to force others to convert to Islam. So, non-Muslims who came under Muslim rule were allowed to continue practicing their faiths
Huh? Here is what Muhammad himself had to say about what to do with "disbelievers":
When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. Then invite them to migrate from their lands to the land of Muhairs and inform them that, if they do so, they shall have all the privileges and obligations of the Muhajirs. If they refuse to migrate, tell them that they will have the status of Bedouin Muilims and will be subjected to the Commands of Allah like other Muslims, but they will not get any share from the spoils of war or Fai' except when they actually fight with the Muslims (against the disbelievers). If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya (a tax). If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them.
To sum that up, you either convert to Islam, or pay a heavy tax and live a humiliating and submissive life as a substandard non-Muslim (dhimmitude), or you die.

I do part ways with one aspect of the complaining parent's argument from the WorldNetDaily article:
"The upsetting part is not only do they go into the history (which would be acceptable) but also the teaching of Islam," she said. "This book does not really go into Christianity or the teachings of Christ, nor does it address religious doctrine elsewhere to the degree it does Islam."
There is a reason for that. According to the California state standards for social science, the origins and beliefs of Islam are to be covered in the 7th grade year. Within those same standards, the origins and beliefs of both Christianity and Judaism are to be covered during the 6th grade. In middle and high school, California state social science standards cover history in a chronological fashion. Islam is covered a year later than Christianity and Judaism because Islam is the most recent religion of the three. I have attempted to get my hands on a 6th grade edition of a History Alive! textbook to see what they say about Christianity and Judaism, but so far, I have been unsuccessful in finding one. TCI's History Alive! website didn't give me anything to work with either.

I do have a rather cynical piece of good news out of all this worry about what the History Alive! textbooks do or do not say about the religion of Islam. If the typical 7th grade student is anything like the 7th graders I teach, you won't have to worry about most students cracking this book anyway. I usually can't get many of my students to read a single page out of their textbooks. Instead, they rely more on my lessons and lectures, where I can set the record straight.

Good Day to You, Sir


The Vegas Art Guy said...

I'm amazed that the parent actually stayed awake long enough to see the parts about Islam. Most textbooks are a wonderful cure for insomnia.

Polski3 said...

Interesting. I teach my students that Jihad has two meanings; one is the personal struggle for an individual to do what their beliefs say are the correct things to do and, secondly, it is a Muslim Holy War. In a Muslim Holy War, those who are killed fighting against "infidels" go right up to Paradise.

As for the "Battle" of Tours, it is quite a debated battle. I read in a Military History Quarterly magazine several years ago that many historians are leaning to this "battle" as the Franks simply putting a halt to a big raid on "infidel" territory by the Moors (Spanish Muslims). Charles "the Hammer" Martel and his Franks recovered lots of loot from the Moorish camp after the Moors were chased back toward the Pyrennes. From my understanding, this was a raid, not an attempt to conquer.

I went to a TCI Geography workshop at the recent NCSS conference in San Diego

(to be continued)

Polski3 said...

Part II

I don't know about TCI's history texts, but their geography text for Middle level ( 6 - 9 ) was published in two formats; one for lower level readers and one for higher ability readers. A comparison of the two was interesting. A teacher could, if admin. let them, order the higher level text for GATE classes ( IF there ever was a GATE History/Social Studies class....NOT at my school :-( )...anyhow.

The State Dept. of Ed. says teach Islam. There are standards for it and as you know, "Religion" is touched upon quite a bit in the Grade 8 Standards STAR or whatever test.....

I have found that when teaching religious stuff, just stick to the strict wording of the standards. And I am one to use multiple resources to try to educate my students.

Thanks for another interesting post!

Polski3 said...

Oh....in the spread of Islam, those who were "People of the Book" (Jews and Christians), were allowed to keep their faith, but taxed higher and their young men forced to serve in Muslim Armies. Peoples of whatever other beliefs were generally delt with harshly; men were killed, women and children forced into slavery.

Muslims and Christians fought each other in southwestern Europe for quite awhile before the first Crusade in the late 1000's.....and that was only because the Muslims "captured" Jerusalem and the Pope and Patriarch of Constantinople were upset about it.
There is an Egytpian made movie about Sal-a-din I'd like to see sometime....have you seen it? He and Richard I of England/Aquiatine were quite interesting characters.

Darren said...

Tours didn't mark the end of Muslim advances (outside of running Spain). Muslim armies were near the "Gates of Vienna" as late as the 1700s.

Chanman said...

And don't forget the Balkans in the 1300s, and the Mediterranean countries in the 1500s (read about the Battle of Lepanto sometime!)

EHT said...

This was a very timely post for me due to a discussion I had with someone earlier in the week. It's amazing how those things happen.

Many of us roll our eyes so often when yet another Christian parent (I'm assuming this parent was Christian) makes a rucus over curriculum materials or reading material in the media center such as Harry Potter, however, this lady is right and you lay it out very well.

Now, I'm assuming you, me, and the very worthy commenters here would realize the slant in some of the text and I'm assuming like me you don't just read the text and move on.

What worries me are the teachers who might get stuck teaching World History in middle school and their focus in colledge was American History instead of World History. They might be more apt to go with the book as judge and jury rather than do intensive research on each and every point. I've seen it happen over and over.

It would seem that it is time for James Loween to do another survey of U.S. History texts and include middle and elementary grades as well.

Chalk one up for the parents for this round! :)

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