Texas Ed Board Targets ‘Pro-Islamic Bias’

by Dan Quinn

Need more evidence that Texas State Board of Education members are more interested in promoting “culture war” politics than ensuring schoolchildren get a quality education? Just months after politicizing new social studies curriculum standards for public schools, the state board next week will consider a resolution criticizing publishers for allegedly promoting anti-Christian and pro-Islamic bias in world history textbooks. Not surprisingly, this ill-considered resolution is filled with superficial, misleading and half-baked claims designed simply to promote fear and religious prejudice.

That’s right. Board members couldn’t go more than one meeting without once again dragging the state’s reputation through the mud with another manufactured and intentionally divisive “controversy.” Is it really so hard to focus on just educating Texas schoolchildren?

Click here to read the resolution and a Texas Freedom Network analysis. Here are the highlights:

In July a failed Republican candidate for the state board, former Odessa school board president Randy Rives, proposed the resolution to board members. Here’s a video clip from the discussion in July:


More after the jump.

Members of the board’s far-right faction asked that the resolution be placed on the agenda for next week’s meeting (September 22-24) in Austin. The measure alleges that textbooks spend more time discussing Islam than Christianity and cast Christianity in a negative light while “whitewashing” and “sanitizing” discussions of Islam. The resolution also claims that “more such discriminatory treatment of religion may occur as Middle Easterners buy into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly, as they are now doing.” The resolution warns:

“(T)he SBOE 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/or by demonizing or lionizing one or more of the mover others. . . .”

Yet an analysis of the resolution and of textbooks used in Texas classrooms shows that the measure’s claims are highly misleading and in many cases plainly false. For example, the resolution grossly understates the amount of coverage textbooks give to Christianity. In fact, it ignores entire textbook sections that deal with Christianity, including chapters and passages on the Reformation, Christian influences during the Renaissance and on the political evolution of Europe, canon law and church reform. Claims that textbooks ignore or whitewash atrocities committed in history by Islamic leaders and Islam’s treatment of women and slaves in history are similarly half-baked. One textbook refers, for example, to the massacre by a Muslim leader of 100,000 Hindu prisoners after a 14th century battle. Another notes that the same leader created a “pyramid of skulls” from those killed in the massacre. The textbooks also plainly discuss the treatment of women and slaves in Islamic societies over time.

The warning about Middle Eastern investors is an especially bizarre example of the resolution’s wild-eyed paranoia. In fact, Arab investors in 2009 put money into one major publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, that is headed by an Irish businessman and registered in the British Cayman Islands. Yet we have heard no charges that the company’s textbooks are promoting a pro-Irish or pro-British bias. Do the resolution’s backers seriously believe that Arab investors are more likely to risk their money by trying to politicize textbooks?

Once again, click here to read the resolution and our analysis for yourself. But this new episode of state board nonsense is more evidence that teachers and scholars, not politicians, should be making decisions about what millions of Texas children learn in our public schools.