Tuesday, February 12, 2002
National Review's Rod Dreher has a great article on how California's seventh-grade social studies textbook deals with Islam. In brief, if Christianity was presented in the classroom in a way that was similar to how Islam is presented, the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way and every other liberal group would be screaming.
"The book talks about how Islam gave women rights, but nowhere does it teach that the Koran says a man is allowed to have seven wives. Kids should know that, because it's relevant to the religion and the culture," (Attorney Brad) Dacus says. "They want to make Islam palatable to Americans."
And, (Daniel) Pipes and Dacus claim wording in the Islam chapters presents theological beliefs as historical facts.
This isn't entirely true. There are numerous passages that contain language like "Muhammad is believed by his followers to have...." But others are more ambiguous ("Muhammad was awakened one night by a thunderous voice [of God] that seemed to come from everywhere..."), and still others do in fact present theological belief as fact ("[T]he very first word the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad was 'Recite.'").
If Islam is played up in the textbook, Christianity is played down.
The transmission of the Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire, decrees the state, is to be taught in the "Fall of Rome" unit. But Across the Centuries makes no mention of Christianity here, not even when it discusses the Emperor Constantine, whose battlefield conversion to the Christian faith was one of the pivotal events of Western civilization.
State guidelines call for Christianity to be addressed again in a unit on medieval Europe: "Special attention should be paid to Christianity in the Middle Ages because the Church, more powerful than any feudal state, influenced every aspect of life in medieval Europe. The story of St. Francis of Assisi should be told, both for his embodiment of the Christian ideal and for the accessibility to students of his gentle beliefs."
But in the seven pages devoted to the European Middle Ages, Christianity is presented not in terms of moral and theological belief, but almost entirely as a matter of power relations and social organization. How much space does Across the Centuries give to St. Francis of Assisi, a historical figure so important he merited special mention in the state guidelines? Ten sentences, plus three lines from one of his poems.
This bias against the religious content of Christianity extends into the unit on the Reformation, which gives short shrift to the theological ideas that inspired Protestantism, and focuses almost exclusively on the social and political fallout.
I will confess that I don't remember much about what I was taught about Islam or Christianity in Junior High. Personally, I don't think I'd really mind if Christianity was shortchanged to a certain extent. I really wouldn't want the local public school teaching my kids anything about Christianity -- there's too big a risk they'd get it wrong. Besides, it's my job as a parent, not theirs. On the other hand, a textbook that doesn't mention Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity isn't well written in the first place.