Local and national organizations are teaming up to fight a portion of a proposed social studies standard before the Texas State Board of Education that opponents say is biased toward Israel and anti-Muslim.
The 17 groups, which include Muslim, Jewish and Christian organizations, are particularly campaigning against this line: “Explain how Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict,” among other curricula that they say “promotes racist and xenophobic stereotypes.”
The conservative state board regularly runs into opposition when it sets curricula for public schools. For example, the 2010 social standards infamously included glorifying Confederate soldiers, demoting slavery to a side issue in the Civil War and encouraging students to think about the “negative consequences” of the civil rights movement. The intrusion of Middle East politics into the fight is something new.
“It hides the real cause of what has led to ongoing conflict, which is the colonization of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of its indigenous population,” said Haithem El-Zabri, a Palestinian-American organizer who is a coordinator of the campaign to change the standards. “It guides students to see the conflict from a very skewed perspective.”
The coalition of organizations looking to challenge the Texas SBOE includes the DFW chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dallas Palestine Coalition, Veterans for Peace North Texas chapter and national groups such as Alliance of Baptists, Code Pink, Friends of Sabeel North America, American Muslims for Palestine and Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East. Other groups around Texas joining the fight are Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Houston, If Not Now, Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights, Palestinian Youth Movement and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin.
A spokesperson from CAIR-DFW said the organization opposes certain proposed changes to the curriculum on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because it blames the victim. They also took issue with lines equating Islam with terrorism and short shrift given Islam in general.
“[Some of the social studies curriculum] distort history, are racist, and would prejudice students against certain religions and peoples,” a spokesperson said in an email. “We also oppose proposals that portray Islam as a radical religion and show a preference for Judeo-Christian traditions to the exclusions of all others. A publicly funded textbook cannot favor one religion over another.”
El-Zabri said the coalition plans to petition, email, call and visit SBOE members individually in order to convince at least eight of the 15 board members to reject the proposed changes. He said they also plan on testifying in front of the board before the vote.
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“We are working on approaching as many of the board members as possible with a diverse group of concerned citizens,” El-Zabri said.
He said he knows they have an uphill battle coming — the board’s members are mostly Republican, if that says anything, and backing Israel seems to be one of the only issues where Texas politicians from both parties can stomach working with one another — but he has hope.
“We believe they will recognize that misinformation does not serve the best interest of the students or the community or world peace,” he said. “Although indications so far aren’t very encouraging, we do expect them to agree that students should form their own opinions and not be guided to support a one-sided view.”
The board’s final vote on the standards is scheduled to happen between Nov. 13 and 16.