An Islamic school in Virginia has made some changes to its textbooks in an effort to tamp down criticism, the Associated Press has reported.
The Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria has been under fire for years because some of the books used at the private school promote extremely strict interpretations of Islam and are highly critical of other faiths.
One book, for example, said it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and people who leave Islam to join another religion. Another text asserted that "the Jews conspired against Islam and its people." Those passages and others have been removed.
This is a positive development, but I can't help but wonder if the people who criticized these books will now go on and take a hard look at some the texts commonly used in fundamentalist Christian schools. There is some pretty shocking material in those as well.
In 2001, former AU employee Steve Benen, in the course of writing about private school vouchers in Florida, cited a study by Frances Paterson, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Paterson examined a series of textbooks produced by three large fundamentalist Christian publishers – A Beka Books, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education. What she found was disturbing.
Paterson reported that the books "frequently resemble partisan, political literature more than they do the traditional textbooks used in public schools."
Observed Paterson, "[R]eligion...appears in places where its inclusion is unexpected: the failure of the French and Spanish to successfully colonize North America was part of God's plan that the United States should be established as a 'Christian' i.e., Protestant nation; the violence of the French Revolution resulted from an absence of Christian values; the lack of economic progress in Africa and India is a result of pagan belief systems; German Biblical higher criticism and a belief in Darwinian evolution were direct causes of World War II; and so forth."
In addition, Paterson noted that the books often attack legal abortion, gay people, women's rights and evolution. (One Bob Jones book asserted, "These [gay] people have no more claim to special rights than child molesters or rapists.") The books also distorted Supreme Court rulings on church-state separation.
Many of the books assailed other religions. One Bob Jones University Press text tells students that Catholics have "perverted the truth of Christianity." Another book asserted that Satan controls traditional African religions, asserting, "The strong influence of magic and demonism on African religions made much of African life unhappy and savage. Satan's strong hold on these people kept them worshiping him rather than the true God."
An A Beka book called Hinduism "superstition" that keeps people "living lives of fear."
Paterson wrote an entire article on the way these textbooks treat African religions, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Roman Catholicism. Clearly troubled by the books, she concluded, "It is surely far removed from the spirit of religious tolerance, however imperfectly applied in our nation, to make statements that encourage American children to despise the religion of their fellow citizens."
As bad as these books may be, private Christians schools have a legal right to use them – and people who don't like what is in them have the right to press for change, as they did in Virginia.
But imagine if you had no choice but to support schools that taught from these books. Imagine if private religious schools were funded with your tax dollars through a system of voucher subsidies.
In some parts of the country, you don't have to imagine that. It is happening. In her study, Paterson found publicly funded fundamentalist academies in Milwaukee and Cleveland, where vouchers are in place, using these controversial texts in the classrooms.
Vouchers have been proposed in other parts of the country. Congress is debating whether to expand Washington, D.C.'s "experimental" voucher plan, and a Georgia legislator pushed (unsuccessfully this time) to bring a statewide voucher plan to the Peach State.
It's bad enough that books like this exist and that young children are indoctrinated in the inaccurate and often intolerant worldview that they espouse. Expecting the rest of us to pay for it is simply unacceptable.