Posted on October 14, 2008

Public Schools Teach the ABCs of Islam


For instance, did you know that Muslims discovered America? Or that Jerusalem is an Arab city? That’s just some of the “history” that students in America’s K-12 classrooms have been taught in recent years—with the help of taxpayer money.

A new report by the non-profit Institute for Jewish and Community Research finds that American high school and elementary textbooks contain countless inaccuracies about Christianity, Judaism, Israel and the Middle East.

The Institute examined 28 of the most widely-used history, geography and social studies textbooks in America. It found at least 500 errors.

One book ignored the Jewish roots of Christianity, saying the faith was founded by a “young Palestinian” named Jesus.

Another stated as fact that the Koran was revealed to Mohammed from God.

Yet another said ancient Jewish civilization contributed “very little” to to the arts and sciences.

Textbooks like these are used by millions of schoolchildren in all 50 states. Sandra Stotsky—now an endowed chair at the University of Arkansas—has seen some of them firsthand.

Stotsky was a commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 until 2003. In that role, she helped set standards for students and teachers on the K thru 12 level. Stotsky wrote a book about her experience developing standards and professional development for history teachers called “The Stealth Curriculum.”


The outreach coordinator at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies helped organize the seminar. Stotsky said she was shocked by the teachers’ lesson plans that came out of the week-long seminar.

“They ranged from having students make prayer rugs; describe what it would be like to go on a hajj—a pilgrimage; learn and memorize the five pillars of Islam; listen to and learn how to recite passages from the Koran; dress like a Muslim from a particular was, to me, a clear violation of ethics involved in how one would expect children to learn about another culture. That they would literally go through the memorization and the learning of religious beliefs.”


Harvard is one of 18 universities that receives government funding under Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965. To qualify for that funding, the universities are required to conduct outreach to K-12 teachers, helping them to shape lessons for schoolchildren. Elementary and secondary teachers have taken full advantage of the arrangement: after all, they believe they’re getting expert insight on Islam and the Middle East from distinguished university scholars.


In some cases they may be getting more than they bargained for: the Saudi government has donated millions of dollars to Middle East Centers at universities that receive Title VI funding.

The Harvard Middle Eastern Studies Center—whose proposed lesson plans for K-12 history teachers originally drew Stosky’s concern—is one of them. As CBN News reported earlier this year, the Harvard Center received a $20 million donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in 2005. Georgetown University—another title VI recipient—also received $ 20 million from the Prince that same year.

It’s through these Title VI university centers—all of them government-sanctioned and taxpayer supported—that Saudi-funded materials find their way into K-12 classrooms.


One of the Notebook’s most controversial claims was that Muslim explorers beat Columbus to the New World. Older versions state that some Native American chiefs even had Muslim names, like Abdul-Rahim. These passages were eventually removed after widespread criticism from scholars and Native American groups. The Notebook’s editor, Audrey Shabbas, did not respond to our requests for an interview.

The Middle East Policy Council—a pro-Arab advocacy group in Washington, D.C.—also conducts teacher training programs for K-12 teachers and has promoted the Arab World Studies Notebook as an ideal educational tool.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal donated $1 million towards the Council’s teacher training programs last year. The group did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.