COOL School Reform

Last month, IJCR launched its COOL School Reform initiative at a nationwide conference of state legislators in Dallas. The initiative addresses a significant problem identified in Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra’s recent book, The Trouble with Textbooks (TwT): foreign-funded supplemental educational materials (SEMs) which distort children’s perceptions of Israel and the Jewish people. TwT shows that many of the worst SEMs are funded by foreign governments or organizations that are ideologically committed to destroying the State of Israel. COOL School Reform would require County Of Origin Labeling on SEMs that are distributed in the public schools, so that parents will know what foreign anti-Israel materials are given to their children.

Most Quad readers know that TwT identified a host of problems with American public school textbooks distributed by major publishers. In some cases, this can include flagrant anti-Jewish statements. For instance, Wadsworth/Thomson’s World Civilizations teaches that “There is no record of any important [early] Jewish contributions to the sciences.” Others use skeptical tones to describe Jewish and Christian views, while presenting Muslim beliefs as fact. One example is Holt, Rinehart and Winston’s World History: Continuity and Change (Teacher’s Edition 1999), which teaches that the Ten Commandments are “Moral laws Moses claimed to have received from the Hebrew god Yahweh on Mount Sinai” (emphasis added). By contrast, the same textbook instructs that the Qur’an is the “Holy Book of Islam,” which contains “revelations received by Muhammad from God” (emphasis added). Similarly, many textbooks uncritically adopt Arab anti-Israel propaganda, such as when Pearson Scott Foresman’s The World teaches that “Christianity was started by a young Palestinian named Jesus.” IJCR has urged states, school districts, and nonprofit agencies to monitor textbooks more carefully in the adoption process in order to eliminate such distortions.

Equally important, however, are similar problems which appear in SEMs which teachers routinely distribute directly to their students. SEMs may include outside readings, DVDs, exercises, lesson plans, posters, brochures, and teacher trainings. While textbook content must conform to state and local standards and curricula, many systems provide no such controls on SEMs. This means that they are even more likely to contain the same problems as textbooks but elude any form of monitoring. The Middle East Cultural and Information Center has distributed handouts to teachers which describe “depopulated Arab villages” in “Al Nakhba” [“The Catastrophe,” i.e. Israel’s founding] with the title, “The History of the Middle East is Inseparable from Colonialism.” Arab World and Islamic Resources, funded in part by the Saudi oil company ARAMCO, distributes the Arab World Studies Notebook. The Notebook characterizes Israelis in Jerusalem as “colonialists” and calls for an end to the “colonization” of that city. The Notebook also suggests that teachers ask their students to “practice” phrases such as “alhamdu-lillah” which means “the praise belongs to God.” The Arab World Studies Notebook blames Israel alone for the wars in a way that asserts directly what the textbooks simply imply. This is a soft-pedaled way to say: the Arab armies attacked Israel to destroy the new state. Dennis Ybarra has shown that some of the worst SEMs are funded by foreign entities. “Our analysis of foreign-funded supplemental materials found that the supplements to textbooks, however problematic the books may be, are often no better, and in many cases, they are much worse,” Ybarra said.

COOL school reform, or country of origin labeling, is a state and federal legislative strategy to eliminate biased foreign-funded SEM’s in social studies classrooms. COOL requires disclosure and transparency. That’s all. But in many cases, that should be enough. The idea is to require schools that disseminate foreign-funded social studies materials to label them as such and to provide disclosure both to parents and to state and federal education departments. Fundamentally, the concept is that parents have a right to know when their children are indoctrinated with anti-Israel material. COOL school reform takes a page from agricultural policy. The 2002 and 2008 federal Farm Bills established mandatory COOL labeling for many fresh meat products, such as chicken, ground beef, pork chops, and steaks. These requirements have been in effect since last September. The question is whether parents should not be given as much information about their children’s education as they are getting about their chicken wings.