They say Florida's social studies textbooks are biased in favor of Islam. • They say it's part of a deliberate effort to brainwash American children. • They want them fixed or dumped. • "I'm not Ms. Paranoid or anything like that," says Sheri Krass, leader of Patriots United, a Broward County-based group with tea party ties. "But I do know I heard some of these major publishers have backing with Arab countries, that are financially backed in some way, or they are somehow being influenced in some way by them."
Patriots United recently sent letters to about 25 of Florida's 67 school districts — including Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco — citing a long list of textbooks and passages they found to be pro-Islam, or anti-Christian, or anti-Judaism, or all of the above.
The concerns raise the specter of textbook wars in other states, especially Texas, where ideological camps have long locked horns over everything from the validity of evolution to how much the Founding Fathers were guided by Christianity.
They also come as the state begins to review social studies textbooks. Department of Education officials said the issue is a local one, as districts select their own textbooks from the state-approved list.
The response to the passages from a professional historian: "It strikes me as a fairly paranoid reading of history, but I'm really very, very hesitant to comment specifically on quotations taken out of context," said Fraser Ottanelli, chairman of the history department at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "Most of the stuff I saw was relatively benign."
The response from a high school history teacher: "I would have trouble validating the (group's) concerns," said Eric Johnson, social studies department chairman at Fivay High School in Pasco.
But Steve Casel, the social studies chairman at Hudson High, didn't discount the notion that there might be some bias in the texts.
Bias, he suggested, is to be expected. And it's up to teachers to help students interpret and filter those biases.
"The textbook is not the end-all, be-all of education," Casel said.
Judge for yourself.
The Earth and Its People: A Global History, Page 134
"Jesus was offended by what he perceived as Jewish religious and political leaders' excessive concern with money and power… ."
The criticism: "sets Jesus in opposition to Jewish leaders using some of the worst stereotypes of Jews as justification"
The American Vision, Page 27
"In the early A.D. 600s, Islam began winning converts outside of its native Arabia. By 711 Islam, whose followers are called Muslims, had spread all the way across northern Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. Through both armed conquest and the sense of religious solidarity that Islam promoted, this new creed won wide acceptance."
The criticism: "Nothing is mentioned of religion before Islam. It's as though no religion ever existed before Islam."
Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction, Page 587
"In 1987, Palestinians began to express their frustrations in a wide spread campaign of civil disobedience called the intifada, or 'uprising.' The intifada took the form of boycotts, demonstrations, attacks on Israeli soldiers, and rock throwing by unarmed teenagers."
The criticism: "Islamist terrorists" would be more accurate. This relatively benign portrayal of Palestinian protests excludes attacks on Israel's civilians, but does include "unarmed teenagers." While Intifada militants, including rock throwers, were of all ages, the writer selectively identifies "teenagers," to whom middle and high school teenagers can relate with sympathy.
World History, Page 491
"Women, as wives and mothers, have an honored position in Saudi society."
The criticism: It's well known that they are limited members of society in most other ways.
World Cultures and Geography: Eastern Hemisphere and Europe, Page 230
"Sometime during the years 8 to 4 B.C., a Jewish boy named Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small town in ancient Palestine."
The criticism: Spins the "Jesus was a Palestinian" myth.
Staff writer Michael Kruse contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614.