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TX board: treat religion fairly in textbooks

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) narrowly passed a resolution on Sept. 24 warning textbook publishers that content “demonizing or lionizing one or more [religions] over others” would be rejected.

The resolution addresses what it says were inequities in Texas social studies textbooks purchased in years past and some still used nationally that present what the resolution charges is a “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias” and “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian half-truths, selective disinformation, and false editorial stereotypes.”

The resolution states that “diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic/anti-Christian distortions in Social Studies texts.” In Texas, the resolution says, examples from years past included:

— A 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; and dwelling for 27 student text lines on Crusaders’ massacre of Muslims at Jerusalem in 1099 yet censoring Muslims’ massacres of Christians there in 1244 and at Antioch in 1268, implying that Christian brutality and Muslim loss of life are significant but Islamic cruelty and Christian deaths are not.”

— “In another instance, allotting 82 student text lines to Christian beliefs, practices, and holy writings but 159 (almost twice as many) to those of Islam; describing Crusaders’ massacres of European Jews yet ignoring the Muslim Tamerlane’s massacre of perhaps 90,000 co-religionists at Baghdad in 1401, and of perhaps 100,000 Indian POWs at Delhi in 1398; thrice charging medieval Christians with sexism; and saying the Church ‘laid the foundations for anti-Semitism.'”

The resolution also claims that among textbooks still used nationally, readers will find:

— “Patterns of pejoratives towards Christians and superlatives toward Muslims, calling Crusaders aggressors, ‘violent attackers,’ or ‘invaders’ while euphemizing Muslim conquest of Christian lands as ‘migrations’ by ’empire builders.'”

— “Politically-correct whitewashes of Islamic culture and stigmas on Christian civilization, indicting Christianity for the same practices (e.g., sexism, slavery, persecution of out-groups) that they treat non-judgmentally, minimize, sugarcoat, or censor in Islam.”

— “Sanitized definitions of ‘jihad’ that exclude religious intolerance or military aggression against non-Muslims.”

The resolution further says that state curriculum standards are insufficient to address such inequity because they do not cover what a course should avoid, only what it should include, and that the Texas Education Code requires the board to enforce “the basic democratic values of our state and national heritage,” both of which are violated by “animus” of one religion over another.

The 7-6 vote to adopt the resolution came after a motion to postpone the vote failed. Two board members, both Democrats, were absent for the vote. Two Republican board members, Patricia Hardy of Weatherford and Bob Craig of Lubbock, joined the remaining Democrat board members in opposing the resolution.

“Of course it not a binding action,” SBOE Chairman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, “but it does send a clear message to publishers what we expect of them: more balanced treatment of major religious groups, that we don’t sugarcoat the history of one religion at the expense of another, that it be fair and historically accurate in the presentation of facts and religious practices and beliefs. It’s a sentiment to publishers of our expectations and maybe also a signal to the board that there have been problems in the past that we need to correct.”

The resolution, Lowe said, dealt with past textbook recommendations because board rules don’t allow resolutions on current textbook lists, even though some of the problems found in the 1999 books “are still problematic in the 2003 books,” she said.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, applauded the board for passing the resolution.

“The Texas State Board of Education is to be commended for drawing public attention to these egregious examples of whitewashing the history of one religion [Islam] at the expense of others,” Land said. “Our children should be taught the truth about history, letting the chips fall where they may. All religions’ history should be presented honestly, warts and all.”

The board likely won’t recommend a new list of social studies textbooks for another three or four years, Lowe said, which allows publishers time to make changes. Texas is influential in the textbook market because it buys or distributes about 48 million books annually, affecting textbook content nationally.

Last May, in a 9-5 vote along party lines, the GOP-majority board adopted new social studies standards that will guide instruction in Texas public schools for nearly 5 million students and determine content for future textbooks and standardized tests.

Proponents lauded the new standards as bringing balance to left-leaning subject matter, while critics cried foul over alleged downplaying of church-state separation, among other things.

The Texas board also drew wide media attention in 2009 when it ratified new science standards requiring biology students to “analyze, evaluate and critique” scientific theories, “examining all sides of scientific evidence” with “critical thinking.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, online at www.texanonline.net.

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