Pastor questions textbook’s view on religion

by Brad Pedersen Staff Writer, Norwin Star

March 22, 2012


A group of Norwin residents wants officials in the Norwin School District to denounce several history textbooks from publisher Pearson Prentice Hall, which they worry are “pulpits in the classroom” for the Islamic faith.

About 30 residents filled the school board’s meeting room on Monday, saying the global studies textbooks present students with a slanted teaching of Islam.

The group, led by the Rev. Bruce Leonatti of Zion Lutheran Church in Irwin, wants district administrators to review how students learn about Islam.

Leonatti brought a copy of “My World History: Early Ages,” which district officials purchased in February. Students use it in Norwin Middle School, and Leonatti said the book “denigrates and demonizes Christianity.”

“The problem is the textbook, not the teachers,” Leonatti said. “There is a consistent pattern of deception in this textbook. We need a strong, clear, defined curriculum and clear learning objectives.”

“I’ve reviewed the Islamic texts in all of the textbooks throughout the district and this problem is widespread — it’s a cancer.”

Leonatti, who taught history at Duquesne High School and in the Dayton Public Schools in Ohio before becoming a pastor, said the book maliciously frames Islam in a historically inaccurate light.

Leonatti began reviewing the textbook about three months ago and met with district administrators after reading about how Islam is taught through ACT! For America Education, a nonprofit organization.

According to the organization’s website, its mission is to “is to be the definitive source of education, information and research about the multiple threats posed by radical Islam, in order to awaken and empower freedom-loving people everywhere to effectively combat these threats.”

Leonatti said the objectives supplied by the textbook in the Islamic units are unclear and need to be rewritten by Norwin school officials.

“Without clear, professional objectives, many of the words of this textbook become Islamic pulpits in our classrooms,” Leonatti said.

District administrators contacted Scott Walker, its sales representative from the book’s publisher, Pearson Prentice Hall, who, in an email, told the district his company stands behind the content.

“Since its original publication, our text, ‘My World History,’ has gone through several revisions and scholarly reviews, as well as various state boards and independent reviewers,” Walker wrote. “We are confident that our coverage of Islam avoids both pro-Islamic and anti-Islamic bias, and meets the educational goals outlined in state standards from across the country.”

District officials plan to review the curriculum and objectives surrounding how Islam is taught in the schools, according to school board president Robert Perkins.

“We’ll take a look at some possible options, whether it’s changing something or doing nothing different,” Perkins said. “At this point, we won’t promise anything until we have a review and discuss it further.”

Superintendent William Kerr said teachers must establish learning objectives as part of planning out their courses, which administrators review.

“Administration will follow up on this (request), and we will take it under advisement,” Kerr said.