AUSTIN – Just when it appeared the State Board of Education was done with the culture wars, the panel is about to wade into the issue of what students should learn about Islam.
The board will consider a resolution next week that would warn publishers not to push a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian viewpoint in world history textbooks.
Members of the board's social conservative bloc asked for the resolution after an unsuccessful candidate for a board seat called on the panel to head off any bias against Christians in new social studies books. Some contend that "Middle Easterners" are increasingly buying into companies that publish textbooks.
A preliminary draft of the resolution states that "diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts" across the U.S. and that past social studies textbooks in Texas also have been "tainted" with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views.
The resolution cites examples in past world history books – no longer used in Texas schools – that devoted far more lines of text to Islamic beliefs and practices than to Christian beliefs and practices.
In addition, the measure cites some books that dwelled on the Christian Crusaders massacre of Muslims in Jerusalem in 1099, while censoring Muslim 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."
A religious freedom group that has battled with social conservatives said that none of the textbooks cited by sponsors of the resolution are being used in Texas schools and that the claims are superficial and misleading.
"This is another example of board members putting politics ahead of just educating our kids," said Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network. "Once again, without consulting any real experts, the board's politicians are manufacturing a bogus controversy."
She argued that current books offer a balanced treatment of the world's religions.
The resolution states that pro-Islamic, anti-Christian half-truths, selective disinformation and false editorial stereotypes "still roil" some social studies textbooks nationwide, including "sanitized definitions of 'jihad' that exclude religious intolerance or military aggression against non-Muslims ... which undergirds worldwide Muslim terrorism."
Sponsors of the resolution cautioned that "more such discriminatory treatment of religion may occur as Middle Easterners buy into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly, as they are doing now." They offered no specific evidence of such investments.
The resolution concludes with the warning to publishers that the "State Board of Education will look to reject future prejudicial social studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world's major religious groups by significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others."
Even if the resolution is adopted by the board, it would not bind future boards, which will choose the next generation of social studies textbooks within a few years. The seven-member social conservative bloc lost two seats in the Republican primary in March and will be diminished when new members are seated next year.
The original proposal for the resolution was brought to the board by businessman Randy Rives of Odessa, who was defeated by board member Bob Craig of Lubbock in the GOP primary for a seat in the Panhandle and West Texas.
Several members of the board's social conservative faction quickly backed Rives' call for the resolution at a board meeting in July, and two asked that the resolution be placed on the agenda of the board's September meeting. Board members will meet Sept. 23-24 in Austin.
"The State Board of Education must enforce basic democratic values of our state and nation," he said, explaining that he came forward because the state's curriculum standards specify only what must be covered in textbooks and classes – but do not address what should not be covered because it is inappropriate for students.
"What concerns me is that some of these books are still available," he said. "The board needs to make a bold statement to publishers that pushing this agenda will not be tolerated in Texas."
Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, said the board has clear authority to reject inappropriate textbooks even though a 1995 state law sharply limited their textbook review powers.
And board member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said he asked for changes in the most recent world history books, adopted in 2003, because they were loaded with text on Muslims but contained far less coverage of Christians.
In the end, he said, "the books were modified, and they agreed to make them more balanced." But he said he still sees a "serious problem" with bias in history books – most recently evidenced in the board's debate over U.S. history books for Texas schools.
Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, suggested that the issue may be moot because none of the world history books cited by Rives are still in use in Texas, having been replaced in 2003.
Hardy said that Rives "might want to go back and get newer copies of the books," although she said she could not say for certain that the current versions don't have similar problems.