After weeks of controversy and debate, a Florida school board decided last week to continue using a world history textbook despite opposition from protesters who claimed the book was proselytizing Islam.
The controversy began early November after protesters claimed a textbook being used in Volusia County high schools “white washed” Islam and favored the Muslim religion over Christianity, Judaism, and other religions. The book in question is the statewide approved Prentice Hall’s “World History” textbook used in tenth grade Social Studies classes. Protesters and “concerned parents” said the book reduced Christianity to a mere footnote, while dedicating an entire chapter to the history of Muslim civilizations. Although a single chapter is designated to Muslim civilizations, information about Christianity and Judaism is covered in seven other chapters throughout the book, according to the Daytona Times. Thus, revealing the driving force behind these protests was anti-Muslim prejudice disguised as concern over historical accuracy.
The Volusia County school board was scheduled to meet on November 5 to review the textbook, however, the meeting was postponed to November 18 due to security reasons. Despite the cancellation, close to 100 protesters showed up demanding the book be banned and called for parents of students to rip the Muslim chapter pages out of the book. A Facebook page regarding the textbook was also set up by the chairman of Volusia County’s Republican party, Tony Ledbetter. The page stated, “We cannot allow our local, state and federal governments to take away our Christian heritage and indoctrinate our youth with that of one religion over all others. This is AMERICA for God’s sake!” However last Monday, after hearing from 80 speakers, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported the Volusia County school board ruled the book will remain in the school’s curriculum with all but one board member in agreement.
The Florida protesters’ actions and language mirror that of the organized Islamophobia movement, and further demonstrates what can stem from their rhetoric. One of the most prominent groups leading the charge against the alleged Islamization of public schools is the anti-Muslim grassroots organization ACT! for America. ACT! provides an online tool that lists all the so-called Islam biased textbooks being used in schools so that members and parents can decide if their child’s book is “education or indoctrination.” The Volusia County textbook in question made the list, of course.
The group operates on a national level trying to prevent what they perceive as biased textbooks from being used. However, they are actually spreading bigotry and further perpetuating the myth that Muslims aim to take over the West. ACT! is currently involved in a Tennessee textbook debate where they are claiming victory after supposedly influencing the state’s department of education’s textbook commission to refuse to approve a social studies book after the group claimed Islam was presented in a flawed and biased way.
Vehement anti-Muslim blogger and figurehead of the Islamophobia movmenet, Pamela Geller, also claims public schools are being infiltrated by Muslims. In her latest column at the conspiracy theory internet hub World Net Daily (WND), Geller applauded the Volusia County protesters and disapproved of the Prentice Hall textbook devoting an entire chapter to Islam. “This is a mosqueing of the public school,” she wrote, adding that school officials and textbook publishers need to be exposed for using “pro-Islamic” books that do not reflect Islam as a religion of violence and oppression. Geller also believes this to be one of the most “insidious forms of stealth jihad,” claiming education about Islam is being used to prepare students to wage war against Western civilization.
However, hate and prejudice did not prevail in Volusia County and the school board’s decision to uphold the statewide-approved textbook demonstrated they were unwilling to give into bigotry of any form. It remains increasingly important to teach and learn about religious, racial, and cultural differences. By doing so, we can further understand and celebrate our world’s diversity as well as strive to treat all cultures, and people from all walks of life, with dignity and respect.