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Brevard residents clash over textbook's chapter on Islam

By Caroline Glenn, For Florida Today, On 10 May 2017, Read Original

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A challenge to President Donald Trump's travel ban appears to hinge on whether a federal appeals court agrees that his past anti-Muslim statements can be used against him. Activists and civil rights attorneys argued that the ban is unconstitutional. (May 8) AP

 
Ninth-graders in Brevard County will keep using a world history textbook, despite fierce debate over its chapter on Islam.

The Pearson textbook came under fire in 2013 and again last month, drawing the attention of the local chapters of ACT for America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. However, the school board ultimately decided Tuesday night to keep the textbook as is.

Leading up to their decision, opponents argued that the chapter ignored the "true history" of Islam and painted Mohammed and the treatment of women in an overly favorable light.

"All the facts must be presented, both the good and the bad," said Lee Boyland, who sat on the textbook review committee back in 2013. "Omitting facts is slanting history."

William Haskell said he wanted Mohammed's "whole life, the whole thing from beginning to end" to be included.

More about the textbook:

"I am very concerned that there be accuracy in books" he told the board. "The only reason I’m here tonight is I want there to be accuracy.

 

But teachers and school board members reasoned that including every detail of a religion with its roots in the 7th century would be impossible. Instead, high school teachers will continue using a chapter supplement developed in 2013.

“I’ve got to imagine that every history book has some omissions in them or the books would be so thick you couldn’t carry them around,” said board member Andy Ziegler, who sat on the board the last time the book came under scrutiny.

Critics also pointed to inconsistencies with the Christian Bible, and in some cases discounted Islam as a religion altogether. But textbook proponents argued that bigotry, not accuracy, was the reason behind the debate.

"I think we all understand that the challenges to the specific faiths that are addressed in this book are not random challenges," said Philip Stasik, president of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance. "This is an organized challenge against the Muslim community, and frankly it’s an insult to the Muslim community."

Others said it scared them to see people who want to challenge "years of documented history" because of recent political discourse.

"I'm pretty offended by and really afraid of people who are going out of their way to make me feel unequal," said Alyssa Ardhya, a freshman at Satellite High School. "They want to recreate the truth."

When members of CAIR and ACT clashed in March, members of the Muslim community maintained that critics of the textbook are only looking to spread Islamophobic ideas, often relying on faulty sources. Throughout meetings, textbook opponents cited articles from Wikipedia, a website that anyone can edit.

"They are not concerned with how well Brevard County’s students perform, nor about their futures,” Rasha Mubarak, Orlando Regional Coordinator of CAIR-Florida, said of ACT. “They are using our students for their one intention and that is to push their anti-Islamic agenda.”

She noted that ACT has been designated a hate group, placing it among organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. The president of ACT's Brevard chapter has since disputed the classification.

More on ACT:

The school board was caught in the middle of an identical argument in 2013.

"When I was told we had to come back here, my first reaction was, 'Really? Again?'" said Mohsen Stasik. "It felt like we were being made to jump through one hoop after another" to defend Islam against people who "have never had an hour's worth of true teaching of Islam. It will never stop."

In this case, one parent petition — filed on behalf of a parent from a charter school, which does not have to use district materials — prompted Tuesday night's hour-long hearing. By law, after a textbook committee of teachers and parents approves a book, it goes to the board and parents then have the chance to file a petition.

New legislation passed in the Florida House and Senate would switch up the textbook review process. A bill that Gov. Rick Scott still needs to approve would allow any residents, not just parents, to petition textbooks they deem inappropriate. Instead of the school board, complaints would go before an “unbiased and qualified hearing officer.”

Watch the Senate Session [Time 2:10:00]

"Why would you fear the debate of involving the community?" asked Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala). "Certainly there's room. All these people help pay the bills and support these schools."

Currently, textbook curriculum is developed by expert authors and reviewed by independent academic reviewers, textbook publisher Pearson said in a statement.

"Pearson materials are created to meet the academic guidelines set by individual states. We are committed to presenting balanced, unbiased and accurate material and welcome the opportunity to meet with concerned parents," said Scott Overland, a spokesman for Pearson, in an emailed statement.

Some lawmakers called the bill unnecessary since parents and teachers can already review textbooks, and worried it could create some unintended consequences in allowing any county residents, who may or may not have children in the school system, to challenge materials.

Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Fort Lauderdale) warned it would undermine the power of local school boards.

"We trust in them, we choose them to make the right decision for us," he said on the Senate floor. "This bill would usurp a lot of that authority and give it to folks who maybe want to prescribe or eliminate books that they simply don’t agree with, books that involve a social debate."