A world history textbook used by seventh-graders at Scottsdale’s Mohave Middle School was pulled from classrooms mid-semester amid growing criticism of the book’s portrayal of Islam.
The removal came on the heels of a slew of angry emails to Scottsdale Unified School District officials and entries on conservative Internet Web logs.
Janie White is a Scottsdale parent who complained about the "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond" textbook, which was being used on a trial basis at her daughter’s school. In a Jan. 25 email to Superintendent John Baracy, she objected to what she believed was "religious bias, dogma, my th and proselytizing."
"I received a significant number of e-mails saying (the book) was Islamic propaganda and we shouldn’t use it," said district governing board member Christine Schild.
Before the board could take action, the book’s publisher requested an end to its trial license with the district in March, and the district quit using the materials.
Nancy Bredin, national sales manager at TCI, insists the publishing company did not pull the license due to the controversy. Instead, she said, the newly-released state standards do not match the textbook’s focus.
"We pulled out because it became very clear we did not match the standards," Bredin said. The book is still being tried in schools in other states, she added.
The textbook covers history from the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. It devotes 33 pages to Christianity and 42 pages to Islam. Bredin explained the book is meant to serve as the second in a twopart series.
The previous book in the series does not mention Islam, which was founded in the seventh century. Yet it devotes 19 pages to Judaism, 13 pages to Christianity and more than 20 pages to Buddhism and Hinduism.
The lessons about Islam are what concern parents such as White. In her complaint to Baracy, she referred to the American Textbook Council, a group that objects to TCI’s explanation of concepts such as jihad.
The book defines jihad as "a struggle within each individual to please God, but that may also be a physical struggle for protection against enemies."
David Damrel, a professor at the Arizona State University’s Department of Religious Studies, reviewed several chapters of the book at the Tribune’s request. He said the passages generally did a good job of describing Muslim attitudes toward jihad in an accurate way.
Complaints about the book started early this year, when White sent a series of e-mails to Baracy demanding the textbook be removed from her daughter’s classroom.
"I do not want my children trying out Islam, or thinking about becoming a Muslim now, or in the future," she wrote to Baracy on Jan. 25. She did say, however, that she approves of including some information about world religions in history lessons, so long as it is presented factually and briefly.
She also objected to a classroom activity that led students to rank the most influential people in history, which she said pit Jesus against Muhammad.
White could not be reached for comment for this story.
The issue drew national attention when a man claiming to be a Scottsdale father posted an entry on conservative writer Daniel Pipes’ Web site on Feb. 27.
The man lambasted what he stated was "fake history along with Islamic religious proselytizing and indoctrination techniques" at his child’s school.
The posting found its way to at least five other Internet log sites, most of which claim to be politically conservative. One Jewish Web site also encouraged readers to contact the Scottsdale district, saying the textbook denigrates Judaism.
At least one Web site, which doesn’t claim any religious affiliation, criticizes Schild and Baracy, saying Arizona public schools are being turned into madrassas, or Islamic religious schools. The site claims it is run by former Cave Creek public school teacher Catherine King and her husband, Jerome du Bois.
Schild said she received between 50 and 100 e-mails concerning the text, many of which came from out of state.