Friday, January 18, 2008

Stupid California textbook says Islamic 'jihad' means doing good works

How come nobody told Osama bin Laden that? Or are we looking at an unacknowledged Islamic definition of "good" being slipped in? I suspect we are

An Islamic "jihad" is an effort by Muslims to convince "others to take up worthy causes, such as funding medical research," according to a textbook that is being used for junior high age students in California and other states. And even at its most violent, "jihad" simply is Muslims fighting "to protect themselves from those who would do them harm," says the "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond" book published by Teachers' Curriculum Institute.

But a parent whose child has been handed the text in a Sacramento district is accusing the publisher of a pro-Muslim bias to the point that Islamic theology has been incorporated into the public school teachings. "It makes an attempt to seem like an egalitarian world history book, but on closer inspection you find that seven (not all are titled so) of the chapters deal with Islam or Muslim subjects," wrote the parent, whose name was being withheld, in a letter to WND.

"The upsetting part is not only do they go into the history (which would be acceptable) but also the teaching of Islam," she said. "This book does not really go into Christianity or the teachings of Christ, nor does it address religious doctrine elsewhere to the degree it does Islam."

She said the book's one page referencing Jews "is only to convey that they were tortured by Crusaders to get them to convert to 'Christianity.' (It fails to mention that the biggest persecutors of Jews throughout history and still today are Arab Muslims). It gives four other one-liner references to the Jews being blamed for the plagues and problems in the land. It does not talk about the Jews as making a significant impact on the culture at large." "How can the writers of this text get away with this?" she asked.

Bert Bower, founder of TCI, said not only did his company have experts review the book, but the state of California also reviewed it, and has approved it for use in public schools. He said the company tries to move history out from between the covers of a textbook and into students' minds, and that is how the book was developed. "Keep in mind when looking at this particular book scholars from all over California (reviewed it)," he said. "We have our own scholars who created the program, California scholars look at the program and makes sure [it] is accurate."

One of those experts who contributed to the text, according to the American Textbook Council, which released a scathing indictment of the project, is Ayad Al-Qazzaz. "Al-Qazzaz is a Muslim apologist, a frequent speaker in Northern California school districts promoting Islam and Arab causes," the ATC review said. "Al-Qazzaz also co-wrote AWAIR's 'Arab World Notebook.' AWAIR stands for Arab World and Islamic Resources, an opaque, proselytizing 'non-profit organization' that conducts teacher workshops and sells supplementary materials to schools."

The textbook council, an independent national research group set up in 1989 to review history and social studies texts in public schools, quoted directly from the book to provide evidence of its bias.

The word jihad means "to strive." Jihad represents the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that would be pleasing to God. Muslims strive to respond positively to personal difficulties as well as worldly challenges. For instance, they might work to become better people, reform society, or correct injustice.

Jihad has always been an important Islamic concept. One hadith, or account of Muhammad, tells about the prophet's return from a battle. He declared that he and his men had carried out the "lesser jihad," the external struggle against oppression. The "greater jihad," he said, was the fight against evil within oneself. Examples of the greater jihad include working hard for a goal, giving up a bad habit, getting an education, or obeying your parents when you may not want to.

Another hadith says that Muslims should fulfill jihad with the heart, tongue, and hand. Muslims use the heart in their struggle to resist evil. The tongue may convince others to take up worthy causes, such as funding medical research. Hands may perform good works and correct wrongs.

Sometimes, however, jihad becomes a physical struggle. The Quran tells Muslims to fight to protect themselves from those who would do them harm or to right a terrible wrong. Early Muslims considered their efforts to protect their territory and extend their rule over other regions to be a form of jihad. However, the Quran forbade Muslims to force others to convert to Islam. So, non-Muslims who came under Muslim rule were allowed to practice their faiths."

The council, in describing the text as a book written by "dictation from Islamic sources," said such passages "should put speculation to rest about what California's seventh-grade students may learn about Islam. At the very least, the passages are incomplete. More precisely, they are dishonest."

Such passages fail to explain "the essentially religious nature of the subject," the council said. "It ignores any challenge to international security and western-style law. The treatment is lyrical and loaded, echoing the language recommended by Islamist consultants."

The Sacramento parent said she became suspicious because of the school's decision to send a copy of the book home with her son and he started describing how it would teach students to write in Arabic. A review left her even more worried. "I was disturbed probably the greatest portion of this book is about Islam. It goes into the doctrine of Islam in detail," she said. "There are 35 chapters. Out of those, I counted at least seven [that focus] on Islam." She said she looked at the publication's list of contributors, and found the name of Ayad Al-Qazzaz, whom she'd had herself for a class on Middle Eastern studies. "That was a big flag for me," she said.

WND previously has reported on the influence of Islamic "consultants" on public school texts in the United States, as well as how other schools have included the "Five Pillars of Islam" among their required courses.

The parent said she just wanted people to know of the agenda being taught. "After seeing Al-Qazzaz as one of the main contributors I began to put two and two together . about the extra book coming home only in this class and I questioned where this book's money source came from - I still do not know," she said. "I am very troubled that in the name of tolerance and educating American children about the Muslim empire in history they get away with giving beginning Islamic teaching which may cause many to perhaps one day become Muslims," she said. "My son tells me that the students will even be using calligraphy to copy parts of the Quran in Arabic as an enrichment activity."

The ATC's second excerpt from the book dealt with the definition of sharia law. "For example, the Quran tells women to 'not display their beauty.' For this reason, Muslim women usually wear different forms of modest dress. Most women cover their arms and legs. Many also wear scarves over the hair," the book said.

Bower said Christianity is addressed in chapters 3, 6, 31 and 32 of the book, including descriptions of the Crusades, while the company's website shows an entire unit called, "The Rise of Islam," including chapters on the Arabian peninsula, "The Prophet Muhammad," "The Teachings of Islam," "Contributions of Muslims to World Civilizations," and "From the Crusades to the Rise of New Muslim Empires."

The recommendations included that "students learn about the beliefs and practices of Islam" and "learn about the life of Muhammad and the rise and expansion of Muslim rule."

Bower said the textbook is the answer to the demands in today's society for a "multicultural" education, and he said whenever some historical subjects are taught, there's always controversy. He cited the internment of Japanese people in the United States during World War II as an example. His company's book, he said, "really gives students multiple perspectives." But he also said he wasn't aware of any agenda held by any contributors to the book, including Al-Qazzaz. "I'll have to look into that," he said. He said about one-third of California's districts use the book, and so do thousands of other districts across the country.

If a parent objects to the agenda in the book, he said, "it's up to them to make a decision, do they want to have the kids opt out of this part. It's their local decision to do so. But in this age isn't it important for us, for our students to know as much about as many different religions as possible?"

Others may agree that students need to know about the world in which they live, but the TCI book is not the right one to teach them. According to a report from William J. Bennetta at the Textbook League, officials in Scottsdale, Ariz., tested the book, and ultimately rejected it after parents rallied to complain. "Students who took a 7th-grade social students course . were subject to gross, prolonged indoctrination in Islam," he wrote. "Much of the indoctrination was delivered in a corrupt school book titled 'History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond,' produced by [TCI]," he said. "The writers of [the book], by relentlessly presenting Muslim religious tales and religious beliefs as matters of historical fact, have striven hard to induce students to embrace Islam."

He wrote that the indoctrination is "concentrated in chapters 8 and 9. This material consists overwhelmingly of Islamic religious propaganda. It includes blatant preaching as well as deceptive claims and extensive fraudulent narratives dealing with the beginnings of Islam, the life of Muhammad, and the inception of the Quran. These claims and narratives are disguised as accounts of history. They actually are restatements of Muslim fables and superstitions."

Bennetta also noted that the book exhibits contempt for Judaism and Christianity. "For example, In a passage in chapter 9, the TCI writers convey the lesson that a religious view held by Muslims is important, but views held by Jews and Christians are unworthy of consideration." Even the level of scholarly work is deficient, he continued. "They teach, in chapter 9, that if someone encounters some antiquated hearsay and jots it down, the hearsay becomes 'written evidence' of historical happenings."

In an Internet posting about the Scottsdale use of the text, Janie White, a parent in the district, reported the book included "fake history" along with "Islamic religious proselytizing and indoctrination techniques."

Officials with the Sacramento school district declined to respond to WND requests for comment about the book and its use. Al-Qazzaz, who teaches at Cal State-Sacramento, has explained in other Internet postings "greater jihad" is to become better Muslims and "lesser jihad" is to fight against Islam's enemies.


NJ college tries to enforce allegiance to a politically correct ethics code

Bergen Community College wants to require students and staff to pledge to "embrace and celebrate differing perspectives" and help the "less fortunate," but some faculty members and free speech advocates say the oath is unconstitutional and smacks of political correctness run amok.

A proposed "responsibility code" was drafted as a response to what school administrators say is a rise in "uncivil" behavior -- including the use of language that is demeaning to women and minorities -- on the Paramus campus.

But critics say the pledge is far too broad. Faculty leaders shown a draft of the code this week vowed Thursday to fight its adoption. "It's unenforceable. Forget the faculty signing this," said Peter Helff, president of the faculty union.

Professor George Cronk, a professor of philosophy and religion who also is an attorney, said the code is an attack on freedom of conscience. "It asks you to pledge things that no rational person would. You can't require people to respect one another. ... There are some views that don't deserve respect," he said, citing ideologies such as fascism.

A spokeswoman for a national group that champions free speech on campus said the pledge seems extreme. "A public school has no right to reach into students' minds and tell them what to think," said Samantha Harris, spokeswoman for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Similar policies have been struck down by the courts.

Harris said colleges can aspire to ideals but they can't stifle their students' freedom of expression and conscience "A public university can't mandate civility," she said. "It's a popular type of censorship on campus and one that often flies under the radar."

The so-called civility movement has gained momentum on campuses during the last decade and many, including most in New Jersey, have included statements on civility in student handbooks. Those statements generally express schools' inclusiveness and tolerance for other viewpoints. (Schools, including Bergen, have separate codes of conduct dealing with unlawful behavior, plagiarism and cheating.) Bergen would have been the first school in the state to require students to agree to such a specific code of civility.

Bergen's president, R. Jeremiah Ryan, said last month he hoped to implement the code during the upcoming semester and a spokeswoman for the college said earlier this week that the code would be mandatory. "The pledge would not be optional," Susan Baechtel, a college spokeswoman, said Wednesday. "If you don't agree, it is President Ryan's vision that you cannot attend the school." She said students who violated the code would be subject to judiciary hearings now reserved for offenses such as assault.

But after hearing from faculty, administrators on Thursday were backing off a bit. Ryan said the proposal was a starting point for discussion with faculty and students, and that the college, ultimately, may opt for an "aspirational" statement as opposed to a code.

Concepts such as tolerance and respect -- unlike legally defined behaviors such as harassment and defamation -- are too broad and legally undefined and have been struck down by the court, Harris said.

A federal magistrate in November barred the University of California from enforcing its civility standard, saying it was an unconstitutional restriction on speech because it had been used to investigate or discipline students, such as the College Republicans whose members stomped on two flags bearing the name of Allah during an anti-terrorism rally at San Francisco State last year.

Opponents of speech codes argue that some of the important movements of our time -- such as civil rights -- were considered uncivil by those in power. "Impassioned speech is not always polite or civil," said Harris.

Requiring students to make a pledge seems over the top considering that the courts have ruled that even the Pledge of Allegiance can't be legally required, Harris said. "It's crossing a line. A public university cannot mandate students' attitudes." But Baechtel, from Bergen, said the school was working to "balance First Amendment rights with a need to bring civility into an institution."

College administrators say they've seen an uptick in bad behavior on campus. "Students are acting out in really uncivil ways," Ryan said. "Classroom faculty say in the last two years it has really ratcheted up. The high schools tell us the same things." The word "uncivil" seems almost genteel when talking about the some of the behavior. At Bergen, faculty hear loud and obscene conversations in hallways and even classrooms, and there have been a few instances of racist graffiti. A student upset with her grade threatened to break a teacher's face.

The problems are not unique to the Paramus school. Officials at Rutgers University had to apologize for football fans who heckled the Navy team with obscenities, and William Paterson University began a campaign to dissuade students from using racial epithets.

WPU addresses the issue in its orientation and student code of conduct. Two years ago, the school also put together an online workshop for teachers on managing disruptive students in the classroom.

Karen Pennington, vice president for student development and campus life at Montclair State University, said civility codes can be tricky. "The difficulty is that civility codes or statements often are seen as pushing a point of view ... when people are trying to do just the opposite," she said. "The difficult thing is trying to decide how far you push in making people feel secure on campus without making another group feel oppressed." Montclair has a statement but "it's really not part of our code, it's a framework ... it calls for an atmosphere of understanding. But it's not a pledge we hold people to."

Judiciary proceedings against students accused of disruptive and destructive behavior at Bergen -- from verbal and physical assaults to graffiti -- spiked to 125 incidents in 2007. The number is still relatively small considering there are 15,000 students at Bergen, "but the trend line is up and we're concerned about that," Ryan said. "The instances have been a wake-up call and we have to make it a learning experience," Ryan said.

Charles Bordogna, who runs a diversity program on campus, said policies such as the proposed code are a start. "We want to be going beyond the word 'tolerance' to respecting individuals for who they are."

But Helff, who heads the faculty, said the code was a "knee-jerk reaction. "I've been there 38 years and I've never sworn to embrace anybody," said Helff. "Next I'll have to be nice to administrators?"


British educationist criticizes Google

Perish the thought that people might get information from popular rather than "authorized" sources!

Google is "white bread for the mind", and the internet is producing a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information, a professor of media studies will claim this week. In her inaugural lecture at the University of Brighton, Tara Brabazon will urge teachers at all levels of the education system to equip students with the skills they need to interpret and sift through information gleaned from the internet. She believes that easy access to information has dulled students' sense of curiosity and is stifling debate. She claims that many undergraduates arrive at university unable to discriminate between anecdotal and unsubstantiated material posted on the internet.

"I call this type of education `the University of Google'. "Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments. "Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content," she said.

Professor Brabazon, who has been teaching in universities for 18 years, said that the heavy reliance on the internet in universities had the effect of "flattening expertise" because every piece of information was given the same credibility by users. Professor Brabazon's concerns echo the author Andrew Keen's criticisms of online amateurism. In his book The Cult of the Amateur, Keen says: "To-day's media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile."

Professor Brabazon said: "I've taught all through the digitisation of education. It's fascinating to see how students have changed. We can no longer assume that students arrive at university, knowing what to read and knowing what standards are required of the material that they do read." "Students live in an age of information, but what they lack is correct information. They turn to Wikipedia unquestioningly for information. Why wouldn't they - it's there," she said.

Professor Brabazon does not blame schools for students' cut-and-paste attitude to study. Nor is she critical of students individually. With libraries in decline, diminishing stocks of books and fewer librarians, media platforms such as Google made perfect sense. The trick was to learn how to use them properly. "We need to teach our students the interpretative skills first before we teach them the technological skills. Students must be trained to be dynamic and critical thinkers rather than drifting to the first site returned through Google," she said.

Her own students are banned from using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study, but instead are provided with 200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work. "I want students to experience the pages and the print as much as the digitisation and the pixels - both are fine but I want students to have both - not one or the other, not a cheap solution," she said.

There have been concerns about students plagiarising from the internet and the growth of a new online "coursework industry", in which web-sites produce tailor-made essays, some selling for up to 1,000 pounds each.

Wikipedia, containing millions of articles contributed by users was founded in 2001. It has been criticised for being riddled with inaccuracies and nonsense. Even one of its own founders, Larry Sanger, described it as "broken beyond repair" before leaving the site last year. Google is the dominant search engine on the internet. It uses a formula designed to place the most relevant content at the top of its listings. But a multimillion-pound industry has grown up around manipulating Google rankings through a process called "search engine optimisation".


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