A Williamson County Board of Education committee has been formed to review a textbook after a parent filed a complaint against the geography textbook, telling officials it contained “blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
But Laurie Cardoza-Moore — who filed the protest at Centennial High School where her son is a student — says the school board is not following its policy by choosing to deal with the situation out of Franklin High School despite no one filing a written formal complaint there.
The textbook titled A Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography, 10th Edition, was written by James Rubenstein, a geography professor at Miami University in Ohio. It is used in a class called Human Geography, a college-level Advanced Placement course that is an international elective open to all high school students.
Critics take particular issue with a portion of the textbook that discusses terrorism and political violence. The author uses the Israeli and Palestinian conflict as an example of how violence is interpreted differently under varying political circumstances.
“If a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant,” the text reads, “is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?”
In the petition, which has 297 signatures, Cardoza-Moore asks the Williamson County school board to remove the text due to its “genocidal anti-Semitic rhetoric, inaccurate historical information relative to the Middle East and the inaccurate classification of terrorist groups.”
“Competing arguments are made,” the textbook reads, “Israel’s sympathizers denounce the act as a terrorist threat to the country’s existence, whereas advocates of the Palestinian cause argue that long-standing injustices and Israeli army attacks on ordinary Palestinian civilians provoked the act.”
Cardoza-Moore said the passage leads students to view Israel’s supporters as irrational and goes beyond prompting students to discuss different circumstances of warfare.
“I have no problem helping kids use critical thinking skills,” she said, but added that critical thinking should still align with Judeo-Christian values.
“Whether it’s an international course,” she asked, “why would we teach our students values that go against our Western values?”
School board policy regarding the reconsideration of instructional materials and textbooks says efforts should be made to provide texts that present many points of view, and “censorship of instructional materials will be discouraged in order to maintain the school’s responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”
Carol Birdsong, communications director for Williamson County Schools, said a complaint first arose at Franklin High School during a December meeting between school board members and parents to discuss concerns about the book, and would be dealt with under that jurisdiction.
Five months after the original meeting, Cardoza-Moore filed a complaint through Centennial High School and created a petition against the textbook through the pro-Israel organization Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, of which she is founder and president.
“We are following policy,” Birdsong said in reference to hearing the Franklin High complaint first.
In the event of a formal complaint, the president of the involved school’s parent organization is required to sit on the book’s review committee.
Several parents expected the review to take place through Centennial High School, including Darla Spears, the 2012-2013 president of Centennial High School’s parent association.
Spears expressed disappointment that she was not asked to sit on the committee. Gini Langham, the president of Franklin High School’s parent association, was instead asked to review the textbook.
“My concern is the level of secrecy that is covering this situation,” Spears said, also saying she was uneasy about how the United States was portrayed in the textbook.
“There was an original meeting at Franklin, but there was never an original form filed at Franklin,” said Cardoza-Moore. “I do not have a parent representative representing my concerns at Centennial High.”
But Birdsong said the paperwork for the formal complaint did not include an associated school.
Formal complaints against educational materials are not common, Birdsong said.
“It has happened before,” she said. “Maybe a parent doesn’t want their child reading a certain book, and they go through the process, and the teacher selects different material.”
“We’ve had fewer than five formal complaints over the past 10 years,” Birdsong said.
According to policy, in addition to the parent representative, the committee will also include a director, a high school principal, a board of education member, and a teacher representative.
Committee members have not been made public, Birdsong said, in order to preserve the integrity of the process. The committee will meet at an unnamed date in June. The meeting will not be open to the public.
Cardoza-Moore also said she had been denied the opportunity to meet with the committee members privately, as they would be voting on the textbook.
“I have a right to lobby the school board members to express my concerns over an issue,” she said.
Opponents of the text are concerned that Christian students were questioning their faith and discussing the concept of a Zionist agenda after studying the geography unit.
Rubenstein said tension between globalization and local diversity underlies this issue and other world problems that geographers study.
“Modern communication and technology have fostered globalization, pulling people into greater cultural and economic interaction with each other,” he said.
“The passage of concern serves as a transition from the long-standing disputes in the Middle East that students already learned in Chapter Six, Religions, and geographic perspectives on terrorism that follow in Chapter Eight, Political Geography,” Rubenstein said.
But the Proclaiming Justice to the Nations petition calls it propaganda and disinformation that “has no place in our public discourse and it certainly should not be taught to our future leaders.”
According to the Nashville-based group’s website, PJTN was formed in 2001 as a response to 9/11, which is also mentioned in the petition against the textbook.
“If we apply the same logic articulated in the textbook,” it asks, “legitimizing terror attacks against Jews in Israel … then what should we deduce from 9/11 and the Moslems who murdered almost 3,000 Americans on that horrific day?”
Rubenstein told the Williamson Herald that understanding the reasons behind a terrorist attack is not the same as justifying the attack. But to Cardoza-Moore, teaching the political circumstances that often prompt warfare and terrorism is the same as validating the violence.
When discussing 9/11, she asks, “If these people have a legitimate gripe against the United States because of our policies, are these people now justified?”
“We trust that our school board is taking our kids in the right direction,” Spears said. “It should represent our best interest by teaching a fair and balanced curriculum that is historically accurate and unbiased.”
Spears said she expected children to be taught how to think, not have them indoctrinated with what to think.
But the attempted removal of the textbook and the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of Palestinian issues highlights the very question the textbook asks students to consider, offering a local lesson on how geographical and political perspectives shape opinion.