Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2002 / 25 Teves, 5763

Joanne Jacobs

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Jihad is your friend | A New York Daily News story on inaccurate and politically correct textbooks, includes a middle-school science book that confuses Newton with Galileo, a high school text that calls Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams a "Protestant leader," a book that crops Pierre Curie out of a photo so Marie Curie can bask in solo glory, and adulatory biographies of Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan.

Then there's Houghton Mifflin's 2003 version of "Across the Centuries," a social studies book. The book tells students that jihad doesn't mean holy war. No, it's something like Lent.

"An Islamic term that is often misunderstood is jihad," it says on page 64. "The term means 'to struggle,' to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil." The struggle "may require action," and the Koran allows "self-defense and participation in military conflict, but restricts it to the right to defend against aggression and persecution."

So when Usama bin Laden declared "jihad" against the U.S., he meant what?

The book was reviewed for the publisher by a "multicultural, multiethnic, multifaith panel" and by the California-based Council on Islamic Education.

I'm guess no Jews were on the panel that okayed a biography of Al Sharpton, which says: "Poor blacks in the cities often found themselves at the mercy of Jewish shopkeepers and landlords, who decided when and when not to advance credit to their customers."

Looking back at 2002, I went to my archives. One of the themes that kept popping up was the tension between post Sept. 11 patriotism and political correctness: Liberal educators couldn’t quite get with the public’s pro-America spirit. Here’s a post from Jan. 29, 2002:

Who was head militarist in the Revolutionary Conflict?

New Jersey's revised history standards don't include the founding fathers, reports the Washington Times. Washington, Jefferson and Franklin aren't mentioned. Neither are the Pilgrims or the Mayflower. The word "war" has been been replaced by "conflict" in the early lessons.

New Jersey students may never know that Pilgrims came to America seeking religious freedom, or that a tree-destroying, slave-owning militarist killed enemy soldiers in the Revolutionary Conflict to become the patriarch of his white male-dominated country.

Testing was very big education news this year too: Virtually all the school reforms out there use tests to hold schools accountable for students’ progress. James Traub hit a key issue in the April 7 New York Times Magazine:

Class War Over Testing

The battle over testing is a class war, writes James Traub in a first-rate article for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Educated suburban parents think their kids are too good for the state's tests, and would be better off doing science fair projects and reading Romeo and Juliet. For disadvantaged students, test prep is valuable. Finally, they're being taught the skills that more affluent students already know.

New York's eighth-grade E.L.A. exam, which requires students to listen to a lengthy passage and answer questions and write an essay about its central themes and details, to answer questions about written passages and also write two other essays, is well regarded in the testing world; but nobody in the (Mamaroneck) class, including (teacher Dee) O'Brien, considered it an intellectually worthwhile exercise. O'Brien just wanted to get back to Romeo and Juliet.

Traub explains what "teach to the test" means. In heavily black Mount Vernon.

Last year's reading comprehension portion, for example, asked students to read both a story and a poem about a whale and expected them to chart the chronology of the story, to understand the imagery of the poem and to write an essay using information from both. The "listening" portion of the test expected students to take notes as they listened to another story and to provide both short answers and a longer essay demonstrating that they understood the narrative.

What does it mean to prepare for such a test? (Reading specialist Alice) Siegel instituted a policy in which every child would take home a book every night and read for at least 30 minutes; the children wrote in every subject, and the teachers drilled into them the difference between an essay that would earn a four on the E.L.A. test, indicating "mastery," and one that would merit only a three, for "proficiency." They learned a graphic system for taking notes. They took lots of sample tests.

Fourth graders in high-poverty Mount Vernon now outscore many middle-class suburban students. In one school, the pass rate in English went from 13 percent to 82 percent.

You'd think that if suburban kids are too advanced for the state tests, they wouldn't need test prep. Just read Romeo and Juliet. That happens in Scarsdale, writes Traub, but middle-class Mamaroneck isn't so sure its kids will ace the tests without being taught the skills. Sometimes elite districts spend so much time on trendy, fun projects, they neglect the basics -- or ignore the minority of students who aren't doing well.

The anti-testing backlash by upper-middle-class parents threatens the progress of disadvantaged children, who desperately need to be taught the skills on these tests.

There was progress on reading instruction, thanks to George W. Bush’s insistence that schools use teaching methods backed by research, i.e., phonics. Here’s an April 15 post:

Inny the Inchworm

The president's call to teach pre-reading skills to Head Start kids brings the usual warnings in this Washington Post story. Experts say it's wrong to rush children into learning too soon. Here's an academic Head Start class:

The preschool children at the Rosemount Center's Head Start program in Northwest Washington each have palm-size books -- made of construction paper and secured with yarn -- in which they practice drawing lines and tracing the letters of their name.

The students, ages 3 to 5, also listen to stories and learn the letters of the alphabet each morning with memory devices such as "Inny Inchworm" for the letter I.

The day also includes face-painting and planting corn kernels in paper cups. It doesn’t sound all that oppressive, does it?

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

12/23/02: Teaching in
12/16/02: Chocolate city?
12/10/02: Mandatory Victimhood --- and when cleaning up a school is 'racist'
11/25/02: Multi-colored math, sensitive science
11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2002, Joanne Jacobs