Welcome to the Parents for Excellence in Newton Schools (PENS) website! We hope you will find the site informative and that what you read here inspires you to take action - an email, a phone call, or a conversation with your children - about inaccurate and biased class material used in public schools in Newton, Massachusetts.
We achieved notable success when the Newton Public Schools (NPS) agreed to remove the widely criticized Arab World Studies Notebook from the curricula. The Newton North High School library agreed to remove a 'recommended' website, Flashpoints, which contains inaccurate and biased anti-Christian, anti-Islam, and anti-semitic material, and the Newton North history department 'whited out' a footnote in the text A Muslim Primer. The footnote claims that "social and economic reasons have forced the [Catholic] Church to reconsider polygamy as a Christian option".
We continue to work on removing inaccurate and biased material from the curriculum, in particular deceptively edited versions of the Hamas and Palestinian Authority charters, which were altered to omit references to genocide and the claim that all of Israel is part of "Palestine". Recently we reached out to the Asian-American community with respect to demeaning stereotypes and caricatures in a high school play, and began a compilation of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim biases in class material.
Further information about PENS' mission and goals is on the page About Us.
Verity Educate Report
In September 2014, the independent research group Verity Educate issued an extensive report on material used in Newton high school courses World History I and World History II, a two-year required sequence covering prehistory to the present day.
The report analyzed twenty-six documents used by students in those courses. Although some of the material was accurate, much of it contains significant errors and biases. In addition to the falsified versions of the Hamas and Palestinian Authority charters, the objectionable material includes text derived from a 196o's-era public relations brochure for a Saudi Arabian oil company, extremist viewpoints described as "mainstream", an analysis of a U.N. resolution which inverts its stated meaning, and more.
The fact that inaccurate material and altered primary source documents were not removed immediately after the Verity Educate report was published, and are still in use five months later, is a sad commentary on the lack of interest in academic honesty and accuracy on the part of Newton administrators.
We believe that class material should be on-line for parents and residents to view. Other Massachusetts towns, such as Hopkinton, already do this; colleges including MIT do this as well. If private colleges allow the public to view their class materials, why shouldn't public schools?
The NPS currently requires citizens - including parents who want to know what their own children are being taught - submit an official public records request and pay inflated, unreasonable fees in order to obtain curricula material. We also recently found that NPS officials deliberately withhold relevant material responsive to requests (see Retaliation and Other Unlawful Acts), and that the public cannot rely on the accuracy or completeness of material they produce. It is clear that previous requests were not responded to in the manner required by law.
This website is a work in progress and is updated as often as possible. If you have any questions about the website or the materials discussed, please contact us at NewtonExcellence@gmail.com.
How the Issue Arose
If you'd like to know how Newton residents became aware of the extent of the problem with class material, a good place to start is the article Taqiyya for Kids, an account of the how the issue came to public attention. The description of some events in the article may seem exaggerated. However, an interview with Tony Pagliuso, the parent who brought the objectionable material to the school's attention, and our own experiences with the Newton Public Schools, indicate that the description of the events is (unfortunately) accurate.
It is also instructive to read the excerpts from and analyses of the Arab World Studies Notebook, a supplemental text used for years in Newton classrooms, until a fourteen-year-old student pointed out a false, anti-Israel passage in the assigned reading. After public outcry, the Notebook chapter with the false and defamatory anti-Israel passage was removed in November, 2011.
Further review by parents (not the Newton Public Schools) found additional inaccuracies and bias in other Notebook chapters used by students. Inexplicably, the NPS refused to remove the other chapters from classroom use, falsely claiming that they had already been removed. (They weren't, as students, teachers, and parents knew). Finally, after six months of effort and numerous false statements by school officials, Superintendent David Fleishman removed the entire Notebook from use in late June, 2012.
The NPS made other false claims to parents and the media. For example, Superintendent Fleishman stated that 9th grade students "don't use textbooks" but instead use only "primary sources" - an impossibility for students learning about prehistory and ancient civilizations.
In order to use primary sources, students would need to be able to read hieroglyphics, Babylonian cuneiform, Minoan pictographs, and polytonic script. Either Fleishman does not understand what "primary sources" are - hard to imagine for someone who earned a doctorate in education from Harvard University - or he believes Newton parents are unable to understand that what he said was total nonsense. (By the way, 9th grade students do use textbooks, and did at the time Fleishman made his fatuous statement. The text is World History - Human Legacy by Harcourt, Brace.)
Fleishman also told parents that the the only contact the NPS had with the anti-Israel Outreach Center at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University (CMES), was a brief presentation in 2011 on the Oslo peace process.
In fact, the Outreach Center made numerous presentations in Newton classrooms, and Newton teachers participated in several CMES workshops. While some of these presentations and workshops were benign, others were not. A particularly noxious workshop was held in January, 2010 when a group of eighty Newton history teachers attended a two-day presentation at Newton South High School titled "Teaching about the Conflict in Israel and the Occupied Territories" - the title itself is enough to show the promoters' bias. (Note that the link is to a cached webpage; CMES has removed the original link. And although the CMES page is dated April 10, 2010, other pages show the actual workshop dates as January 29-30, 2010).
Abdication of Responsibility
Left unanswered, however, is the question of how and why a text disparaged by respected academic and community groups was used for years without question or review. Why did no one notice the false and defamatory anti-Israel claim? And after the anti-semitic passage was finally brought to light, why did no teacher, administrator, or department head assign or take on the necessary task of reviewing other readings from the Notebook, or perform a five-second Google search which would have brought its deficiencies to attention? Why is it left to students and parents to perform the job for which the schools are responsible?
Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Correct No Evil
Unfortunately, the school administration's response to the situation is not what we had hoped. Officials gave inaccurate information to parents and media, and made excuses for the material instead of admitting it was wrong and correcting it. Supervisor Fleishman told parents that the materials were appropriate because 'they're from Harvard' and said that reading anti-semitic statements in history texts was similar to students reading books by 'racist authors' when studying the civil rights movement. It was only after considerable effort by PENS and other community members that the Notebook was removed.
The matters discussed in this website and elsewhere are worthy of serious consideration and appropriate action. For years, Newton teachers have been utilizing outdated and discredited sources, including material prepared by politically oriented organizations, instead of academically sound material. Biased texts and professional development workshops - all paid for with tax dollars - give teachers and students a false view of history at odds with widely accepted academic research. The Notebook has been removed, but further issues remain. For our children's sake, these issues must be discussed and acted upon.