Complaint of bias against Israel prompts high school text rewrite

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A textbook company has agreed to rewrite its unit on the Middle East after the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council issued a report claiming it was biased against Israel.

The JCRC report concluded that the supplemental materials that go along with the Teachers Curriculum Institute’s “History Alive!” textbooks were too filled with inaccuracies and so biased that they should not be used.

Jim Lobdell, senior director of TCI in Rancho Cordova, estimated that it could take a year to update the Middle East curriculum, but in the best-case scenario, it will be done sooner. In the meantime, a notice appears on TCI’s Web site that warns teachers to use discretion with the existing unit.

All current TCI customers will receive the new materials at no charge.

Last fall, the parent of a student at Santa Rosa’s Maria Carrillo High School complained to school officials not only about the textbook his son was using — which he said was biased against Israel — but about the supplemental materials. When the school district refused to stop using the materials, he took the matter to the JCRC, which, upon reading the chapter in question, became alarmed.

This prompted Jackie Berman, the JCRC’s education specialist, and Yitzhak Santis, JCRC Middle East director, to write a report analyzing point by point how the curriculum was flawed. A back and forth ensued with TCI, which sent the report to scholars of its choosing to offer their opinions.

A JCRC board member sent the report to attorney Alan Dershowitz. The board member called Dershowitz’s assistant to see if he would be willing to look at the materials as well as the report, and he did.

“I agree completely that the historical distortions and factual mistakes that appear throughout the curriculum make it unacceptable for classroom use and I hope that the proper authorities will seriously consider your criticisms,” Dershowitz wrote.

Lobdell said that the JCRC’s report prompted TCI leadership to seek the opinions of additional scholars and teachers on the unit in question.

“The feedback we got from them and the context of the events since 9/11 and the heightened sensitivities around the issues in the Middle East prompted us to update the lessons that we have,” said Lobdell.

Which is cause for cautious celebration at the JCRC. “Of course we’ll be watching,” said Berman, “but we’re hoping it turns out right now.”

Since TCI’s decision, the Santa Rosa school district has stopped using its materials.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."