By Fred J. Aun
A history textbook being used in Roxbury's middle school inappropriately glorifies violence, dangerously whitewashes its descriptions of Islam and engages in pro-Muslim indoctrination, say residents who want it removed from the classroom.
The book, History Alive! Medieval World and Beyond has been removed from use by a number of school districts across the nation, including four in Bergen County, said Succasunna resident Laurel Whitney, who is spearheading the opposition to its use in Roxbury. She said the book is being used as a supplemental text in Roxbury’s Eisenhower Middle School.
The district has shown reluctance to remove it.
Whitney created a summary of her issues with the book and sent it to school officials. But in a Nov. 9 email to Whitney, Roxbury Schools Assistant Superintendent Loretta Radulic said the book was staying, at least for the time being.
“Your passion for the issue is evident, and I do appreciate your concerns for the safety of the students,” wrote Radulic. “The supervisor, building principal, Board Members, and I have had several meetings to discuss your concerns. At this point we do not believe eliminating the textbook is the appropriate road.”
Pressed at the Roxbury School Board meeting Monday by a group of about 20 people, including Whitney, board President Theresa D’Agostino said the book was “under investigation,” a process that, she said, will be done internally and discussed by the board “in committee.”
Asked by Whitney how the public will know the board’s decision, D’Agostino said, “If the book is still there, that will be the result of our investigation.” It was a response that did not sit well with Whitney and the others who joined her in criticizing the book.
Whitney asserts the book inappropriately “contains overly graphic descriptions of hearts being cut out, beheadings and suicides” when describing the history of some cultures. “Between the impressionable and volatile age of these children and example after example of using violence to solve problems, not to fear death and preparing for pain, this can be a recipe for disaster,” Whitney told the board. “We are all wondering why there is an uptick of school violence, maybe we have our answer.”
However, she also asserts the book’s descriptions of the history of Islam glosses over the violence and human rights abuses that took place at the hands of Muslims. “Each unit seems to contain a great deal of violence surrounding each nationality described except for the unit dedicated to Islam,” said Whitney. “The descriptions of ‘Jihad’ and ‘Sharia Law’ had all the violent elements eliminated.”
She also contends the book veers away from teaching objectively about history and edges into proselytizing Islam.
“The teacher’s guide directs students to a page on the Saudi Embassy website to find a full text of the Quran,” said Whitney. “Why is this different than a school handing out bibles? The workbook includes many exercises involving Muslim prayers, including having children write the prayer to convert to Islam, the Shahadah … Public schools should not engage in these types of activities violating children’s freedom of speech and religion.”
Succasunna resident Craig Heard, a former board member, said the book should be removed from the classroom immediately pending the board’s final decision. “When a police officer is investigated, they put him on administrative leave,” he said. “My suggestion is put this book on administrative leave.”
Lisa Millus said she was upset when her son, whose teacher used the textbook, was given an “inappropriate” assignment that he found offensive: “He was asked to pretend he was of the Islamic faith.” Additionally, she didn’t think it proper for the teacher to require the students to learn the “pillars of faith of Islam” in a history class.
Whitney’s husband, Moti Almakias, drew applause from the audience when he implored the school board to take action, suggesting the textbook’s treatment of Islam was part of a well-funded but subtle propaganda campaign. “Ladies and gentlemen, I truly hope that you treat this as the most important thing you do,” he said. “We tend to think of threats as guns and knives. Hearts and minds are more important.”