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History textbook free of bias, state claims

By Marsha Sutton

Senior Education Writer

A complaint objecting to the representation of Islam in the seventh-grade history textbook in use by the San Dieguito Union High School District was rejected Sept. 1 by the California Department of Education, after the CDE sent the complaint to the textbook’s publishers for review.

Thomas Adams, director of the standards, curriculum frameworks, and instructional resources division of the CDE, notified SDUHSD superintendent Ken Noah that the publishers of “World History – Medieval to Early Modern Times” — published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston — reviewed the objections point by point and determined that changes were not needed.

“The publisher responded at length to the allegations of inaccuracy included in the complaint,” Adams wrote to Noah. “After reviewing the contents of the original criticisms and the publisher’s response, we have determined that there is no need to change current materials.”

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“We’re disappointed, [but] it’s not unexpected,” said Michael Hayutin who, with colleagues Linda Sax and James Freedman, filed the initial complaint. “They’re hardly going to admit that they have errors.”

Noah received the complaint last December and forwarded it to the CDE in March 2011.

Hayutin, Sax and Freedman asserted that the textbook portrayed Islam inaccurately or incompletely and, in a 21-page report that Hayutin said took nearly a year to write, cited 22 points in the textbook as problematic.

The publishers addressed each of the 22 points in their letter to the CDE, responding to objections raised in the Hayutin report that were reproduced in the letter in paraphrased or edited form.

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They defended the textbook’s contents for a number of reasons: out of respect for beliefs of other students, the complaints were subjective, complete coverage of the issue was limited by textbook space restrictions, California state standards needed to be strictly adhered to, age-appropriateness of seventh-graders was a consideration, and providing more details would be “beyond the scope of a brief historical survey.”

Each point was rejected save one: the publishers agreed with the Hayutin team on one question on Sharia, the religious law of Islam.

An on-line question in the textbook currently indicates that the statement “Sharia is the law in Muslim countries today” is false. Hayutin objected to this, saying that Sharia law is practiced in whole or in part in many Islamic countries.

The publishers agreed that the assertion was not false and recommended rewriting the statement to read: “Sharia is the law in ALL Muslim countries today.” This, they wrote, would make it “a stronger ‘not correct’ answer.”

“They did concede on that one issue because it was so blatant,” Hayutin said. “They basically admitted they’ve got to change the Internet answer because the answer said Sharia is not being practiced anywhere in the world.”

Hayutin rejected the publishers’ defense that providing more in-depth information would be inappropriate for students as young as seventh-graders.

“That’s a convenient excuse that the poor little ones can’t hear about Muslim abuse,” he said. “But … they have no problem whatsoever if Americans or Christians have committed some atrocities. The kids can hear all about that.”

The issues are “clear and so obvious historically,” he said. “The bottom line is the only reason they’re doing this is they’re afraid to offend.”

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Tehseen Lazzouni, director of the Islamic Speaker’s Bureau of San Diego, said she had not yet seen the letter from the CDE but was “very pleased that they came up with this decision.”

“My feeling in general was that the textbook was very reasonable in its presentation about Islam and Muslims, and I had full faith that the people evaluating it had the knowledge and the background to be able to make this determination,” she said.

Noah said the decision was not surprising. “I expected that their conclusions would be what they were, although they were far more thorough than I had anticipated,” he said, referring to the point-by-point rebuttal.

Noah said he agreed that some of the allegations were subjective, were beyond the scope of the state history standards for seventh grade, or were age-inappropriate. He said he supported the CDE’s decision.

Next steps

Adams said in his letter that textbooks are reviewed by classroom teachers, administrators and experts with advanced degrees in their subject areas before they are recommended for approval by the state board of education and for adoption by school districts.

This particular textbook was adopted in 2005, Adams said. The next review of history-social sciences textbooks had been scheduled for 2011, but legislative action in 2009 suspended this process until 2013.

“I don’t think these people have bad motives,” Hayutin said. “I just don’t think that they think it’s important enough.”

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Hayutin is the San Diego chapter leader of ACT for America, whose stated mission, according to its Web site, is to “inform, educate and mobilize Americans regarding the multiple threats of radical Islam.”

Hayutin said he will present his point of view at the state level at the next textbook review cycle, but does not expect that to be any time soon. In the mean time, he said he and his colleagues will “do our best to get the information to as many parents as we can” and will apply political pressure on California legislators.

“What we’d ideally like to do is get a state senator to hold hearings and get experts up there before the Senate,” he said. “I have a list of reformist Muslims who agree with us 100 percent. They are out there and there’s more than a few.” He said he hopes to encourage them to come forward and speak publicly about the issue.

“We’ll do what we can do,” Hayutin said. “We’re basically three individuals trying to make some kind of a difference in this.”

“I think the California Department of Education made the right decision to keep the textbook as is,” Lazzouni said in an email. “I am sure they reviewed the criticisms in light of history and the California history-social science content standards.”

Noah said the CDE would be the agency responsible for making additions, deletions or corrections in textbooks, not individual school districts. In light of the CDE’s decision, he said the district will continue as before, using the seventh-grade textbook as is.


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