Crimes Against History
The most recent public battles have involved history textbooks. Gilbert Sewall of the American Textbook Council testified to the Senate in 2003 about the “disturbing” “collaboration of educational publishers with pressure groups and textbook censors.” He described publishers who “cater to pressure groups for whom history textbook content is an extension of a broader political or cultural cause. They make books whose content is meant to suit the sensitivities of groups and causes more interested in self-promotion than in historical fact, scholarly appraisal, or balance.”1
Of particular concern to Sewall is what he describes as Islamic political action through the “virtually unchecked power” of the Council on Islamic Education—and other Muslim organizations—over leading publishers of history textbooks. He argues that “for more than a decade, history textbook editors have done the Council’s bidding, and as a result, history textbooks accommodate Islam on terms that Islamists demand.”2
In his 2008 evaluation of history textbooks, Sewall concludes that “among the textbooks examined, the editorial caution that marks coverage of Christian and Jewish beliefs vanishes in presenting Islam’s foundations.”3 In fact, he cites multiple examples from these textbooks to demonstrate that they “describe Islam in glowing language, [but] they portray Christianity in harsh light. Students encounter a startling contrast.”4
Writers detailing a separate analysis of the same textbooks conclude, “Textbooks around the world are blatantly used as tools for propaganda. It is shocking to discover that history and geography textbooks widely used in America’s elementary and secondary classrooms contain some of the very same inaccuracies about Christianity, Judaism, and the Middle East as those in Iran and the Arab world.”5
Of particular concern is an up-and-coming publisher, Teachers’ Curriculum Institute (TCI), an aggressive privately held California-based educational publisher increasingly popular among textbook buyers. According to Gilbert Sewall, “in recasting world history TCI pushes the boundaries of multiculturalism to a degree the larger publishers do not.”6
Why do secular publishers submit to the power of such special interest groups?
1 Gilbert T. Sewall, Testimony before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Intellectual Diversity (September 24, 2003).
2 Gilbert T. Sewall, Islam and the Textbooks (New York: American Textbook Council, 2003), pp. 25-26.
3Gilbert T. Sewall, “Islam in the Classroom: What the Textbooks Tell Us: Part Two of Five.” Family Security Matters (May 12, 2008).
4Gilbert T. Sewall, “Islam in the Classroom: What the Textbooks Tell Us: Part Three of Five.” Family Security Matters (May 12, 2008).
5Tobin, Gary A. and Dennis R. Ybarra. The Trouble with Textbooks: Distorting History and Religion. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008).
6Gilbert T. Sewall, “Islam in the Classroom: What the Textbooks Tell Us: Part One of Five.” Family Security Matters (May 12, 2008).