Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Karen Bracken on Balance in Public School Textbooks

Karen Bracken shared this document from the Florida Family Association; my response (the paragraph I typed into the petition-to-the-company linked at the end of the F.F.A. report) appears below.

"Several news sites (Fox News and CreepingSharia) reported in late December 2014 that the Pitt County School District in North Carolina was using a vocabulary textbook with a chapter titled The Islamic World.  The work book contained several pages of vocabulary fill in the blank questions such as:
    • “There are such vast numbers of people who are anxious to spread the Muslim faith that it would be impossible to give a(n)___ amount.”
    • “The responses to Muhammad’s teachings were at first _____. Some people responded favorably, while other resisted his claim that ‘there is no God but Allah and Muhammad his Prophet.”
  • “The zenith of any Muslim’s life is a trip to Mecca.”
The entire Islamic World section is posted here.  
Florida Family Association submitted a Public Records Request on January 5, 2015 to the Pitt County School District  which asked for copies of the vocabulary textbook chapter titled The Islamic World.  The request also asked for the separate Christian and Jewish side lessons that the district spokesperson, Brock Letchworth, alleged were also distributed.  Mr. Letchworth complied with the request.  He provided Florida Family Association with a copy of the entire Holt, Rinehart and Winston Vocabulary Workshop Fourth Lesson and two separately created side lessons.
The Holt, Rinehart and Winston Vocabulary Workshop Fourth Lesson was first published 15 years ago.
Florida Family Association began a long drawn out email exchange with Roderick M. Spelman, Vice President of Holt, Rinehart and Winston’s parent company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Florida Family Association asked Roderick M. Spelman “What other workbooks are currently offered for this grade level which give the same presentation of Judaism and Christianity that were presented in this workbook for Islamism, Hinduism and Buddhism?”
After several follow up email communications, Mr. Spelman finally answered on February 6, 2015 with:   "After reviewing past product  I cannot provide you with any vocabulary workbook titles that have been published by HMH (presently or via our legacy companies) that present Judaism or Christianity as the basis for a set of vocabulary activities.  That said, our range of Social Studies texts do present content on all major religions. I would be happy to direct you to those title if that would be helpful to you. Please let me know."
However, Mr. Spelman has not provided the alleged “Social Studies texts on all major religions” that he offered on February 6, 2015 despite Florida Family Association’s follow up requests.  
The Holt, Rinehart and Winston Vocabulary Workshop Fourth Lesson workbook is still offered for sale and used in schools. 
By Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s own admission they have not offered during the past fifteen years vocabulary workbooks that have included Chapters on Judaism and Christianity for this grade level but they have for Islam.  Omitting Judaism and Christianity from publications in this manner makes it difficult for school districts to present a curriculum with fairly and legally balanced religious content.
Florida Family Association has prepared an email for you to send that urges officials at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to stop omitting Judaism and Christianity from their publications and start providing fairly and legally balanced religious content in the future.
To send your email, please click the following link, enter your name and email address then click the "Send Your Message" button. You may also edit the subject or message text if you wish.

To which e-mail I added:

"I know it will be very difficult to discuss the U.S. "majority" religions, with all their diversity and disputes, in the same bland general way it's possible to discuss tiny minorities that are likely to thank publishers for mentioning them at all; publishers have my sympathy about that. I'm even willing to vet proposed texts from a conservative-Protestant perspective. However, it's unfair to students to assume that all children already know everything they need to know about Judaism and Christianity. Most elementary school students are taught about only one (and typically only one denomination), and many aren't taught about either."