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  Don't miss "Corruption in our children's textbooks."

Book draws parents' ire

ISLAM: A mother's concern leads an Inland district to act. The text draws a suit elsewhere.

Aug 3, 2002


COLTON - A Colton mother has challenged the use of a seventh-grade social studies textbook she says maligns Christianity while whitewashing Islam, joining a statewide effort to have the book amended or removed.

Karen Aaker, whose son will enter Bloomington Middle School in the fall, reviewed the book "Across the Centuries," and said she found it biased against Christianity. She has filed a formal complaint with the Colton Joint Unified School District seeking to have the book's flaws pointed out to parents and students.

Lawsuit filed

Aaker's complaint comes at a time when public criticism of the book, published by Boston-based Houghton Mifflin, is increasing around the state. Company officials did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.

Lawyers representing four California parents filed a federal lawsuit Monday against a Northern California school district alleging that it instructed students to participate in Muslim rituals, including praying to Allah and taking a Muslim name. The suit argues that the exercises were performed during a three-week period while students learned about Islam in "Across the Centuries."

Steven Medd/The Press-Enterprise

Karen Aaker of Colton, sitting with her 11-year-old son, Landon, the textbook "Across the Centuries" amended or removed the classrooms. She says the book maligns Christianity while an overly positive interpretation of Islam.



While some parents have taken an unflinching stance against the book, claiming it aims to convert students and could lead them down the path of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, Aaker said she is mostly concerned the book is giving students misleading information.

"I don't want to come across as a fanatic," Aaker said. "I don't think that we're producing little Taliban fighters. But the coverage that Christianity is given in the seventh grade is entirely negative."

Only state-approved text

The book, the only state-approved social studies text for California seventh-graders, has come under scrutiny in the wake of Sept. 11 for what some say is an overwhelmingly positive interpretation of Islam that fails to mention historical events, such as last year's terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists.

A mother from the Central Coast community of Morro Bay sparked national awareness of the book this year when she led a fight to have it removed from her son's school. She said it was polluting his Christian beliefs.

Jennifer Shroder said exercises asking students to imagine themselves as Muslim soldiers on their way to conquer Syria or to pretend they're on a pilgrimage to Mecca amount to proselytizing. "It's total indoctrination," Shroder said. "I'm disgusted by what they're getting away with."

Shroder's attempt to have the text banned was unsuccessful because the book is the only one approved by the state to meet social studies requirements. (unsuccessful? gasp  -JenT)

The California Board of Education is scheduled to hear proposals for new textbooks next year, said Chris Dowell, a curriculum consultant for the state. Several publishers have submitted social studies textbooks for consideration. If a different textbook is approved, it would be used starting in 2004.

Colton district acts

In the meantime, Colton school officials have acted on Aaker's complaint. A curriculum committee consisting of school officials, a local pastor and a high school librarian reviewed the mother's concerns.

The group recommended that starting this fall, social studies teachers in Colton middle schools should explain to parents and students that the text is not a reflection of current events and may have errors of omission. In addition, teachers will tell parents during open house that alternate assignments are available.

District officials will also remind teachers that class assignments should not involve simulations of religious events or beliefs, such as re-enacting a prayer service, said Pat Gopperton, Colton's assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

"I think that parents need to understand that it really is just an effort to teach students the history of that time," Gopperton said. "It's not the intent to proselytize."

Aaker, who is president of the site council at Bloomington Middle School, said she is pleased the school district took her concerns seriously. School officials, she said, are doing everything they can at the local level.

She said she doesn't plan to have her son excused during the portion of the class that deals with Islam.

Reach Maria T. Garcia at (909) 890-4455 or mgarcia@pe.com

(why do they never mention this website, sigh)

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