By Dr. Richard Swier
Dr. Francis Haithcock, Chancellor of Florida's Public Schools, is the perfect example of a Catch-22. Catch-22 is a general critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning. The phrase "Catch-22" is common idiomatic usage meaning "a no-win situation" or "a double bind" of any type.
Over seven months ago Aya Sewell, mother and parent with two children in Sarasota public schools, went to the School Board and requested the textbook World History: Patterns of Interaction be removed from the district approved list of instructional materials. On July 20, 2010 the School Board held an appeal hearing to consider the request. The Sarasota County School Board voted to deny the appeal in large part because the subject textbook was on the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) list of approved instructional materials. School board members recommended Aya take her case to the FDOE.
Aya did just that and guess what happened?
Aya received a letter dated September 17, 2010 from Dr. Frances Haithcock stating, "Considerations of whether a text is appropriate for a school district's students and the decision to use a particular text remain local issues." [Emphasis added]
Aya is now in a perfect double bind or Catch-22.
Who would have guessed. But it gets worse. According to Chancellor Haithcock, "Although your letter [to the Florida Commissioner of Education] identifies areas where you believe the content standards were not adequately addressed and areas where you believe the content standards themselves show an improper emphasis, the letter and its enclosures did not identify factual, historical inaccuracies in the textbook that would warrant an investigation pursuant to that section [of Florida Statute 1006.35]." [Emphasis added]
On what does Chancellor Haithcock base this statement?
Dr. Haithcock never says in her letter. However, Aya presented the Commissioner of Education with a detailed study by Dr. Terri K. Wonder, a nine page forensic review of the textbook by the Thomas Moore Law Center and references to a variety of studies done in other states that show this particular textbook to be both inaccurate and biased. So either Chancellor Haithcock did not read Aya's complaint, including attachments, or she was predisposed to deny the case to protect the bureaucracy.
Finally, while this is all happening the Texas Board of Education (BOE) passes a resolution directly aimed at the publishers of textbooks addressing the bias contained in world history textbooks. The Texas BOE went on to warn publishers to stop the clear and blatant inaccuracies contained in social studies textbooks, specifically naming World History: Patterns of Interaction. According the MSNBC:
Among the assertions in the resolution are that world history textbooks currently in use:
“Dwell” on atrocities committed by Christian Crusaders during the Middle Ages while ignoring similar acts by Muslims.
Provide sanitized definitions of “jihad” and ignore Muslim practices involving sexism, slavery and persecution of non-Muslim groups.
Devote significantly more coverage of Islamic beliefs, practices and holy writings than they do on Christianity.
The Texas BOE, "[A]lso predicts that “more discriminatory treatment of religion” may occur as more “Middle Easterners buy into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly” — a reference to an investment by the Dubai royal family that gave it a minority stake in major K-12 textbook publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Harcourt Education." It is interesting to note that the Florida edition of World History: Patterns of Interaction is published by McDougal Littell, which was purchased by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishes educational materials for the Middle East via their affiliate Education Media and Publishing Group International.
It appears Chancellor Haithcock did not do her homework.
So what is the next step for parents like Aya? Well, she has vowed to not give in to this Catch-22. She has approached Rick Scott, candidate for Governor of Florida, and provided his team with the documents she has compiled over the past year. This issue is not going away and rightly so.