Two Brevard School Board members are reviewing a world history textbook used in Advanced Placement classes after a state lawmaker and citizens' group criticized it as biased toward Islam - at the expense of Christianity and Judaism.
House Representative Ritch Workman and individuals from two citizens groups spoke against the textbook, "Prentice Hall World History," at the Brevard School Board meeting on Tuesday, citing examples of phrases and passages they saidshow bias.
"Our children deserve facts and accuracy, not history being revised for our own failure or desire to not offend one culture or another," said Workman, a Republican from Melbourne.
The textbook, which has been used in Brevard for the past three years, devotes a chapter to Islam, with sections including the rise of Islam and the building of the Muslim empire. Conversely, Christianity and Judaism do not have their own chapters and instead are referenced in paragraphs embedded in other sections.
Workman also expressed concern about how historic events are portrayed and what phrases are used. He said the textbook reads Jesus proclaims himself to be the Messiah but declares Muhammad becomes a prophet.
School board members Amy Kneessy and Andy Ziegler promised to review the textbook, which is published by Pearson, a well-known printer of textbooks.
"No matter what the subject is, whether it's math, English, science or world history, students need to have accurate, unbiased information," Kneessy said. "If textbooks are unbiased or incomplete, it's our job to fix that."
Pearson spokeswoman Susan Aspey said the company and its authors adhere to "the highest editorial standards when creating course materials, which undergo a rigorous review process."
"The textbook referenced was approved by the state of Florida and meets all requirements for the High School World History Course," she wrote in an email. "A review of the book shows there is balanced attention given to the beliefs of Islam, Judaism and Christianity."
Ziegler said the underlining issue is accuracy and fairness - and should be investigated.
"When I went to school, I thought that the textbooks were gospel," he said. "If there is information in our textbooks that is incorrect, I believe it needs to be correct."
Robin Miller, who is going into her second year teaching at Eau Gallie High, said she noticed that the book referenced Islam more than Christianity when she used it in class, but received no complaints from students or parents.
"There was more discussion of the Muslim aspects, but I attributed it to it being more focused on the world and other cultures than our own," she said.
In addition to textbooks, teachers often assign primary documents or secondary sources to students. Also, just because a textbook is part of the curriculum, it doesn't mean everypage or chapter is read during the course of the class.
"To simply count the pages devoted to a particular subject in a textbook, it's just not a broad enough view about how the curriculum will actually be implemented or obtained in a particular class," said Robin Novelli, Brevard's director of high school programs.
The textbook in question is not scheduled to be replaced for another three years. It was selected for adoption by a district committee that included parents and educators. District leaders said an invitation was sent to ACT! for America, one of the groups raising concerns, to participate, but a representative did not attend at the time.
The two groups, Citizens for National Security and the Space Coast chapter of ACT!, have been researching school textbooks. Leaders say the groups have members in common, but act independently.
"The kids, when they come back to the school in the fall, are going to have this textbook, which is biased and incorrect," said Boca Raton resident William Saxton, chairman of the Citizens for National Security.
Wilfredo Ruiz, an attorney for Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the groups have an agenda in challenging textbooks.
"They just want to create an environment of intolerance toward Muslims and an environment of hate against Islam," he said.
Individuals who spoke at Tuesday's school board meeting said their goal is for Brevard to adopt a more balanced textbook.
Bill Prince of Melbourne, a retired military colonel who has deployed to a dozen different countries in the Middle East, told school board members he fought side-by-side with Muslims - and against followers of radical Islam.
"It is my considered opinion that the textbooks that our students are using in Brevard County do not give a balanced view," he said. "I think it's fine to explain the five pillars of Islam, but for us to whitewash some of the really terrible things, about, especially, radical Islam, does a great disservice."
Mackenzie Ryan FLORIDA TODAY