Eight years after the atrocities of 9/11, Americans need to know what public school textbooks are teaching about Islam, radical Islam, and terrorism. The big three textbook states--those that set standards for content because publishers aim to capture their large sales, California, Texas, and Florida--are currently preparing for new textbooks, to be introduced in 2010-13. These books are likely to shape the content of public instruction for several years to come. At this point in a complex process of drafting and adopting "standards," then "frameworks," and finally texts, with time for public comment and revision at each stage, the outlook in both Texas and Florida seems quite encouraging, while California's effort appears regrettably stuck in a pre-9/11 mindset.
In the past, American textbooks were prone to two great pitfalls: Either they dealt with Islam superficially or they presented it in the manner preferred and promoted by well-funded defenders of Islamic extremism. A hallmark of that latter view is an emphasis on the unity of Islam, which is portrayed as simple, monolithic, and benign. The wide range of belief and practice between Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Islam, to name only the best-known variations, is downplayed, and the problems of Islam, especially violent jihad, are simply left out. Some of the current efforts at revising textbooks successfully avoid these mistakes.
The Texas Education Agency issued its proposed new standards for world history at the end of July. The deadline for public comment was October 9, and the approval process is now under way. The revised standards are posted in an 18-page document at ritter.tea.state.tx.us/teks/social/WorldHistory073109.pdf. Especially by comparison with the last Texas standards, issued in 1998, they mostly reflect a post-9/11 outlook.