A Rim of the World school board trustee is questioning whether the world history textbook seventh graders currently use accurately portrays Islam, and if the coverage is out of proportion to other religions mentioned in the book.
At the Oct. 20 board meeting, Rim Trustee Dr. Leslie Bramson read a prepared statement detailing her concerns of the in-depth study of Islam in the History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond textbook.
"Chapters 7, 8, 9 10 and 11 in History Alive! (published in 2005) chronicles the geography of the Arabian Peninsula, the prophet Muhammad, the teachings of Islam, contributions of the Muslims to world civilization and New Muslim Empires," she wrote. "And in Chapters 14 and 15 of the same text the influence of Islam is taught.
"Teachers are instructed to start teaching Chapter 7 in mid-October and complete the teachings of the influence of Islam on West Africa in mid-December," she continued. "That is a very long time to focus on this topic when teaching 7th graders."
Bramson, who holds a Ph.D. degree in pubic health education, is also questioning the accuracy of some of the material in the textbook.
"Students are taught that the god of Islam is the God of Judaism and Christianity," she wrote.
Not true, she said.
Then there's coverage of the concept of jihad.
"The text states that that jihad originally meant a physical struggle against enemies while striving to please their god," she wrote. "Jihad is further explained to mean 'to strive.' The text book our students use does not reveal verses in the Qur'an that teach about war."
She referenced Surah 61:4.
She wrote that the text says, "Truly Allah loves those who fight in his cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure."
"Our students are not receiving a full disclosure of Islam," she wrote. "They are being given a rosy colored idealistic picture of a narrow piece of the religion and culture of Muslims."
Susan Brown, director of educational services for Rim of the World School District, told this newspaper this is the first complaint she's heard about coverage of Islam in a Rim textbook.
"I did have two parents who talked about Judaism coverage," she said. The parents had objected to material being taught in one of the textbooks the district uses.
"They didn't want their children hearing information that would confuse them," she said.
The parent's objections were handled at the school site, and classroom accommodations were made.
"The students were allowed to make an optional assignment," she said. "Our school sites are very accommodating and open to working with parents. We try to handle these (issues) at the classroom level."
Brown said there's nothing the district can do about the textbooks being used.
"We can only purchase what the state approves," she added.
In this case, History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond was approved in 2005.
The textbook also covers the disintegration of the Roman Empire, China, sub-Saharan civilizations of Ghana and Mali, Medieval Japan, Medieval Europe, Meso-American and Andean civilizations, the Renaissance, developments of the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Exploration, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.
Current content standards were adopted by the California Department of Education in 1998, and all publishers must show how their textbooks follow the learning plans set by the state.
The process to accept a new textbook takes nearly three years, Tom Adams, director of curriculum frameworks and instructional resources for the state Department of Education, told this newspaper.
The actual review period for a proposed textbook takes about a year.
"Our reviewers usually are teachers, and we train them so that they judge things according to the state's criteria," he said.
In the case of History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond, objections to some of the material in the textbook ended up in court, he said.
"The Hindu American Foundation sued," he said. "The end result was that the judge in the case said the book was fine, but that the state needs to express all of its processes in regulations," Adams said.
Every step along the way needed to be spelled out, including how long the review process takes.
Currently the state has issued a moratorium on developing or purchasing new textbooks because of the current budget crunch in Sacramento.
"We can't change the standards," Brown said, "and right now we can't buy new textbooks."
But Bramson feels strongly about her position.
"A parent brought it to my attention," she said.
And she feels confident in asking her questions about the textbook.
"As an educator myself, I think I'm qualified to comment on this," she said. "I understand the process."
Adams said if Bramson feels there are errors in the textbook, she should write him.
"If she has issues, she should write them to us and we'll take a look at them," he told this newspaper. "We look at every question we receive."
He added that if Bramson's questions concern the state's content standards, they can't be changed.
"But if she's saying there are issues of accuracy, we'll look at it," he added.