Misinformation and Bias in Newton Classrooms

In  The Trouble with Textbooks, Dr. Gary A. Tobin and Dennis R. Ybarra discussed the distortions, biases, and outright falsities present which occur in many K-12 textbooks. Unfortunately, Newton schools are very much affected by this issue. A review of material in just three class sections (of the approximately 20 sections in total) of the World History sequence taught to 9th and 10th grade Newton students shows the following:

Biased Materials Presented as 'Neutral'

Numerous texts used in Newton high school World History classes present a biased or one-sided point of view, especially with respect to Middle East history, politics, and religion. With few exceptions, these texts are not used to stimulate discussion or as examples of bias. They describe themselves, and are presented, as objective and neutral.

9th and 10th grade textbooks as well as handouts contain instances of overt bias and in some cases, lack historical accuracy. No attempt is made to inform students of these biases, present accurate and relevant facts, or ensure that students are aware of opposing viewpoints.

The Verity Educate Report includes numerous examples of bias; there are also examples that do not appear in the Report. Some of the worst examples are described here.

Material Inaccuracies and Omissions

Some of the materials used are so inaccurate that there seems to be no conceivable reason why any classroom would use them. One example is the book A Muslim Primer, a chapter from which is used in 9th grade classes to discuss the status of women in Islam and Islamic societies.

The chapter, The Status of Women, contains dozens of inaccuracies, unsubstantiated "facts", and omissions of vitally important concerns facing Muslim women today.   

Inordinate Amount Of Time Spent Studying One Religion

Students spend an inordinate amount of time studying religious beliefs, especially Islam. Students in two different classes reported spending two weeks studying Islam and two days each studying Christianity and Judaism. A parent reported that when they asked the History Department Chair at Newton North whether students would learn about other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism; he said they do "if there is time".

It is vital for students to learn about non-monotheistic as well as monotheistic religions. Spending two weeks of a forty-week course, intended to cover over 4,000 years of history, studying a single religion is an inappropriate use of time and resources.

Violation of the Separation of Church and State

Students are required to be conversant with Islam at an inappropriate level of detail, even though such study bears no relation to world history.

Students are required to memorize all twelve steps of the Haj and are tested on their knowledge of the steps and their "symbolic meaning to Muslims". Other test questions ask about the Five Pillars of Islam, whether Muhammad's first revelation occurred before or after he married his wife Khadija, whether the "Angel Gabriel" spoke to Muhammad before or after the Hegira (flight to Mecca) and before or after Khadija's death, and other questions about solely religious events.

One example, a test question from 2011, is below:

Which of the following is in the correct chronological order?
a. Muslims take control of Mecca, Islamic Empire reaches to Spain (sic), Muhammad marries Khadijah; Muhammad dies
b. Birth of Muhammad, Muhammad's first revelation, Muhammad marries Khadijah, Muslims take control of Spain
c. Hagar searches for water, Bedouin idols destroyed, Muhammad's final revelation, split between Shii (sic) and Sunni Muslims
d. Hegira, Khadijah dies, Angel Gabriel speaks to Muhammad, Muhammad begins to preach in public

In addition to the fact that all statements assume the truth of what is written in the Koran, there is no valid reason to require students to study a specific religious faith at the level of detail necessary to answer this question. Of all the statements listed in answers a-d, the only ones relevant to Middle Eastern history are those concerning the time frame of Muhammad’s birth and move to Mecca (i.e. the when Islam began) and the time frame of the Muslim conquest of Spain. The other statements, especially those involving purely religious events such as when various revelations occurred and when an angel is believed to have spoken to Muhammad, need not and should not be studied in a public school setting, especially when the truth of those details is assumed.

The inordinate attention to a single religion and requirements to memorize religious details bearing no relationship to World History is inappropriate and violates students' right to receive a public education free of religious coercion or doctrine.