THE BLOG

Florida Lawmakers Ambush Education

04/21/2014 07:39 am 07:39:40 | Updated Jun 21, 2014

In 1945, when U.S. diplomats from the Mid-East tried to persuade President Truman not to yield to Zionist pressure, Truman responded by saying, "I'm sorry gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism; I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents." Indeed, that was a very powerful statement describing and linking the relationship between the public and lawmakers.

Yet, today, over 400,000 American Muslims constituents across the State of Florida are fighting a decisive battle against ignorance, intolerance and indifference in the Florida State Legislature. Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) and his low level of knowledge about Islam and Muslims has placed a special burden on our legislators to negotiate complex issues brought on by SB 864.

Senator Hays has said that he decided to file SB 864 after some residents in his district complained that students were being taught pro-Islamic textbooks, i.e., the World History textbook published by Prentice Hall. The complaints in Senator Hays's district were provoked by groups like Citizens for National Security (CFNS) and ACT! For America (ACT), both organizations having been designated as hate groups by many including the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In fact, CFNS and ACT have been working with various county GOP clubs, REC leaders and Tea Party chapters to push school boards to remove and/or edit textbooks with references to Islamic civilization based on their biases and perceptions. Interestingly enough, Volusia County School Board and students took a stand in support of the textbook while Senator Hays chose to use legislation as a weapon, a weapon that reinforces the anti-Muslim/Islam stereotypes and justifies discrimination and slander against Islam and Muslims in Florida.

Here are the facts published by Volusia County School Board regarding the world History Curriculum which actually begins in sixth grade:

  • In grade six, the time period that is covered begins with ancient history from 1.8 million B.C. through the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D.
  • The textbook for grade six world history is History Alive! The Ancient World, from the Teacher's Curriculum Institute.
  • The textbook has two separate chapters on Judaism, one chapter on Hinduism, one chapter on Buddhism and two chapters on Christianity. (None on Islam)
  • The teaching of world history in Volusia County Schools continues at grade 10 with a review of what was taught in grade six and then begins more in depth, starting with the time period of the Middle-Ages in 500 B.C. and progressing through history until the present day.
  • The textbook for grade 10 is World History from Prentice Hall. Christianity is referred to multiple times throughout the textbook found in sections of three chapters and referenced in seven other chapters.
  • There is a separate chapter on Muslim Civilizations that addresses the rise of Islam.
  • The textbook also references 10 of the world's major religions and provides a summary of their key beliefs, including Christianity. Reference to the role of these religions in human history is referenced throughout the textbook.
Shouldn't our legislators stand up against hate and bigotry, like the Volusia County School Board? They rejected negative bias and rhetoric along with over 500 high school students who signed a petition for keeping the World History textbook and curriculum in question by stating, "We hope that the School Board will respect our voices in the process of education and reject voices of intolerance and censorship."

SB 864 intentionally puts objective teaching and learning at stake, it leaves our students at a disadvantage and at the mercy of groups and individual voices that cry the loudest. Today, it is the World History textbook controversy stirred up by ACT for America, tomorrow it could be the KKK, the Neo Nazis and others.

  • As lawmakers, are you ready to open this door to hate and bigotry in all forms? How confident are you that SB 864 protects our schools and our children's future?
  • What assurances do parents in the State of Florida have that special interest groups will have no say in selecting the contents and context of their children's education?

As legislators you cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to these concerns, rather you must make an informed analysis. SB 864 is an impulsive reaction that marginalizes the Florida Muslim Community and now has the potential to jeopardize the entire Sunshine State school system with an unnecessary law for a problem that does not exist by:

  1. Imposing a tremendous unfunded mandate on our school districts
  2. Depriving school districts of the state's "economy of scale" in textbook purchasing power
  3. Reducing Florida's influence over textbook content
  4. Opening the adoption process to social and political bias
  5. Threatening the constitutional requirement for a uniform system of free public schools

As our representatives in the State Capitol, you have a responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of all Floridians, not just a few. You must hear the voices that reject SB 864 like the Florida School Superintendents, Florida School Board members, Florida Parent Teacher Association, along with hundreds of thousands of parents. Even Florida Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart, questioned Hays's bill, "From a practical standpoint it lifts a burden from us," Stewart said. "But we heard loud and clear from districts that they rely on (the state review). They need that. They don't have the resources to be able to do that."

Whether you realize it or not, SB 1388 which passed in 2013, already gives school boards the right to choose books from the State's list of approved books and spend up to half the districts' money on books not on the State list. This would mean the schools can create their own selection process by implementing their own program for the review, approval, adoption, and purchase of instructional materials. Yet to this date, none have opted to exercise this law.

Are Florida lawmakers so blinded by their hate for Muslims and Islam that they are willing to put an entire state education system in jeopardy?

Senator Hays has said that the "purpose of this bill (SB 864) is to make sure the people who are making the decisions on selection of material are held accountable by the people of that community." Who will hold Senator Hays and the supporters of SB 864 accountable for turning our schools into breeding grounds for hate and bullying?