Scottsdale school officials deemed a textbook unacceptable for high school use this month after a rabbi declared it unfair to Jews.
Rabbi B. Charles Herring of the Temple Kol Ami was one of two community members asked to comment as part of a panel for a new textbook adoption process. The review panel also included 20 teachers and district employees who looked at 18 books in the past several months.
“The Earth and Its People” is the second social studies text to come under fire in the Scottsdale Unified School District in the last 12 months because of the way it deals with the histories of Islam and Judaism.
“While teachers have a lot of expertise, world history is so huge when you start looking at religion,” said Janey Kaufman, a district curriculum coordinator. “Right now we had to be really sensitive to these issues because of the state we’re in as a country and the fighting that’s going on.”
However, the review process was not necessarily fair to all parties because the district did not seek opinions from multiple religious groups, said Nure Elatari, spokeswoman for the Arizona office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“I’m really happy we have the public schools taking an interest in making sure it’s valid, but I’m disappointed that nobody from the Islamic community was made aware of it to review this book,” she said.
Herring said the authors of the book, which was used at Chaparral High School last year, challenged basic Jewish history and “minimally depicted” the Holocaust.
“The creation of the state of Israel is little more than a footnote,” he wrote, saying he did not believe the book aligned with state standards.
Michael Valle, who teaches world religion at Scottsdale Community College and was the other community member who reviewed the book, called it “incredibly informative” in his review. He said it was competent, in general, though it seemed a bit lopsided against Christians in its treatment of the Crusades.
But he respected Herring’s opinion of the book’s treatment of the Jewish faith, he said.
“I feel that he probably has a perspective that I can appreciate, but I can’t have, because I’m not of that faith,” Valle said.
Governing board member Christine Schild said she approved of the review process and hoped it would prevent a repeat of last year, when the district was dragged through the mud on various conservative Web logs for piloting the “History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond” textbook at Mohave Middle School.
Critics said that book promoted Islam, and the publisher pulled the book in March.
“I don’t want to adopt materials that are offensive to my community,” Schild said. “You can’t please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. But the district is trying to remain sensitive to these issues.”
While all religions were not represented on the review board, Schild said she believed Valle’s position as a world religion professor meant he could examine the text objectively from multiple viewpoints.
Kaufman said textbook controversies are becoming more common.
“People are being more vocal about their beliefs than they were before,” she said. “It’s just a different time. I’m worried.”
She’s had parents call and yell at her regarding the evolution and “intelligent design” debate, and social studies are just as touchy, she said.
“Some textbooks try to take the middle of road position, so sometimes they water down things a little bit, or the main story they are trying to tell doesn’t come through because they make sure they want to say it so carefully,” Kaufman said.
She plans to establish a review board next year made up of a diverse group of parents that would be an avenue for any complaints about videos or books used in the classroom.
“That way, none of us have knee-jerk reactions and we can look at things in a balanced way,” she said.