Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.: The Texas State Board of Education: Now Promoting Islamophobia?
Islamophobia, the virulent strain of religious hatred that has been spreading like wildfire across the country, is set to put in an appearance at the Texas State Board of Education.
Given how politicized the Board has been, and given how members regularly focus on religion and politics rather than education, this certainly shouldn’t be surprising. But a lack of surprise doesn’t make the impending actions any less unsettling. Indeed, watching the Board move in this direction is very much like watching a car wreck in slow motion. All the players are in place, they’re heading for one another with the ensuing collision certain to yield dire consequences, and all you can do is sit there with your jaw dropped, hoping that what you’re seeing isn’t real.
In this case, it’s all too real. But, perhaps with enough public outcry, Board members will act to avert the impending disaster. Then again, this is the Board that ignored the advice of science experts when they crafted their science curriculum, making it ever-so-friendly to creationism, and this is the group that ignored the advice of social science experts when they opted to recast the state’s social science curriculum in stark political terms.
At the Board’s meeting on Sept. 22-24, it will take up a resolution that accuses social studies textbook publishers of “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias.” The resolution makes three outlandish claims:
- Textbooks used in Texas regularly contain “Politically-correct whitewashes of Islamic culture and stigmas on Christian civilization”;
- Those same textbooks regularly offer students “Sanitized definitions of ‘jihad’ that exclude religious intolerance or military aggression against non-Muslims”; and
- Those textbooks devote significantly more space to Islam than they do to Christianity.
The resolution also draws the troublingly xenophobic conclusion that “more such discriminatory treatment of religion may occur as Middle Easterners buy into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly.”
As with so much else that the Texas State Board of Education has concluded over the years, the evidence simply doesn’t support its claims or its conclusion. The Texas Freedom Network (TFN), after undertaking an analysis of the books in question, has come to a very different set of conclusions. Perhaps the most striking and absolutely irrefutable point is that the textbooks referenced in the resolution are not currently being used in Texas classrooms, and they haven’t been for more than half a decade.
The books that are in use, those that have been approved for use by the Board, don’t do any of the things that the resolution claims. As a TFN blog post explains it, “the resolution grossly understates the amount of coverage textbooks give to Christianity. In fact, it ignores entire textbook sections that deal with Christianity, including chapters and passages on the Reformation, Christian influences during the Renaissance and on the political evolution of Europe, canon law and church reform.” TFN has similarly shown that contrary to the claims in the resolution, the texts discuss atrocities performed in the name of various religions, including both Christianity and Islam.
Unfortunately, the contingent on the Board apparently behind the resolution is unlikely to be swayed by the facts, especially since they are being presented by the Texas Freedom Network. What, you ask, is the Texas Freedom Network? As its web page explains, “the Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of more than 45,000 religious and community leaders.”
But consider the position of Board member Ken Mercer, locked in a tight re-election fight against Rebecca Bell-Metereau. He has attacked TFN as “an ultra-liberal advocacy group.” What got him so worked up? TFN was opposed to Mercer’s position eviscerating the teaching of evolution in Texas schools. Mercer doesn’t need to listen to experts on evolution because he considers himself perfectly well versed on the subject. In the same op-ed piece in which he attacked TFN, he offered these infamous words as an explanation for a position that is in direct contradiction to that of the world’s scientific community: “[H]ave you ever seen a dog-cat, or a cat-rat?”
Or consider that Board member Cynthia Dunbar described TFN as “a horribly liberal organization.” Happily, Dunbar has opted not to run for re-election this year.
So, the strategy is likely to be to ignore the facts presented by TFN and, instead, to attack the messenger.
Finally, the conclusion that “Middle Easterners” are inherently more likely to produce biased textbooks is as naïve from an economic standpoint as it is unsettling from an ethnic perspective. Beyond those obvious points, however, why is it that conservatives like those on the Board have gaping blind spots when it comes to the right-wing media? As Jon Stewart, among many others, has so humorously pointed out, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is the second-largest shareholder of News Corp, the company that owns FOX News, and no one has accused FOX News of promoting an Islamic agenda.
Surely some of the Texas State Board of Education members pushing this resolution would realize that a Saudi Prince is a “Middle Easterner.” But, then again, given the bizarre positions Board members have taken in the past, I suppose there’s no reason to expect they might accept something that is so obvious to the rest of us.