Public gets chance to comment on social studies textbook

Rick Wagner • Apr 16, 2019 at 11:22 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Why blur the line between the God of Christians and Allah of Islam?

And why not mention that Christianity is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Those were among concerns expressed by some folks who came to a public textbook adoption display Monday afternoon on the outskirts of Bristol at the Sullivan County school system’s Akard Service Center. They were addressing the “World” seventh-grade social studies textbooks the Sullivan County school board included in a blanket textbook adoption approved 4-2 with one absent April 2.

All the texts on display meet standards, meaning the school system can use any of the texts, although the overwhelming choice of teachers and a textbook committee was the McGraw-Hill “World” textbook for seventh grade. It is part of the same series that may be used for sixth and eighth grades.

Jim Jordan, at the viewing with his wife, Karen, said he could not find the “World” textbook equated Allah and God, although the Rev. Brad Davis, director of operations for Tri-Cities Christian School and pastor of a church in Bristol, Va., said he found the text confusing on that matter. However, Davis and Jordan said the McGraw-Hill text should include a mention of the resurrection, which Christians worldwide will celebrate in five days this Easter Sunday.

“I wanted to see just how accurate the book is,” said Davis, who, like the Jordans, wrote down comments on a form the school system provided after reviewing the McGraw-Hill text.

“I’m alarmed that it’s not accurate in historical terms for Islam and Christianity,” Davis said. Aside from not mentioning the resurrection as a centerpiece of Christianity, he said that Muslims would take the book to task for equating God and Allah as much as Christians would. Saying otherwise is “inaccuracy of the history that is being portrayed” in the text.

“I have Muslim friends who are very good friends,” Davis said, adding that they have mutual respect for each other. “They would be the first to disagree” that Allah and God are one in the same. At Tri-Cities Christian, he said the curriculum covers the same history and culture; however, Davis said “it is explained who each of these ‘gods’ are.”

The McGraw-Hill text in question is “World History and Geography, The Middle Ages to the 1700s.” The other, by Gallopad, addressed the same standards but is a paperback book in a work book format to be purchased annually. 

For Islam, “World” says: “Followers of Islam, known as Muslims, believe in one God, whom they call Allah. The word Allah is Arabic for ‘God.’ ”

It goes on to explain Islam is based on the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran, a book Muslims consider as sacred as Christians do the Bible.

For Christianity, it says: “Christianity has more members than any other world religion. It began with the death of Jesus in 33 CE in what is now Israel. Christianity is based on the belief in one God and on the life and teachings of Jesus.”

It also said Christians believe Jesus is the son of God.

Jordan took that section to task for not mentioning the resurrection and said the foundations of the Christian church began in the year 30, the beginning of Christ’s three years of ministry before his crucifixion. Muslims consider Christ a prophet.

“The Board of Education has tough decisions and a hard job,” Davis said. “I don’t want them to think we’re criticizing them.”

About 10 people, including two reporters, showed up during a two-hour public review at a former elementary school. Robin McClellan, supervisor of elementary education, said such events in the past have drawn nobody from the public.

However, not all examined only the seventh-grade social studies texts. And not among the texts on display was “My World,” a Pearson textbook that in an earlier edition is in use in county schools now. The county system could seek permission to get a waiver and use Pearson, but that is not planned or recommended by the textbook committee, Assistant Superintendent Angie Buckles said.

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