Norwin defends 7th-grade textbook

About Rossilynne Skena

Tribune-Review Staff reporter Rossilynne Skena can be reached via e-mail or at 724-836-6646.


Some passages taken from “My World History: Early Ages” that The Rev. Bruce Leonatti objects to:

• “Religious toleration also helped the Arab Muslim Empire expand.”

• “The Arab Muslim empire was generally tolerant towards Jews and Christians.”

• “As the Arab Muslims build their empire, Islam spread peacefully both inside the empire and to the lands beyond its borders.”

• “Mobs of Christian peasants turned on those Jews who would not convert to Christianity.”

• “Medieval Christians would not tolerate even minor differences in beliefs.”

Source: Report written by The Rev. Bruce Leonatti


By Rossilynne Skena



Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 11:04 p.m.

Updated 6 hours ago


Norwin administrators are defending a middle school social studies textbook that a local pastor called “an Islamic Trojan horse” in requesting that the district revise its curriculum involving the religion.

In an administrative report this week, Superintendent William Kerr said the textbook is “an acceptable reference for the seventh-grade global studies course of study.”

The book, “My World History: Early Ages,” is one of several used in seventh-grade social studies “to teach comparative religions in a nondevotional, instructional manner,” according to the district.

In March, The Rev. Bruce Leonatti of Zion Lutheran Church in Circleville told the school board that the book “promotes Islam over Christianity and Judaism” and “denigrates Christians.”

Leonatti said he plans to present a second report to the district about two textbooks under consideration for purchase because he disagrees with how they describe the Muslim aspect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“This is not a done deal in terms of what we’re looking at,” Leonatti said. “We’re still exploring this. And they seem to kind of want to put it away and get rid of the whole issue, but it’s still there.”

Leonatti, who formerly taught history at Duquesne High School and in Ohio, contends the social studies text is riddled with errors. He said he’s involved with “ACT! For America,” whose mission is to “give Americans concerned about national security, terrorism, and the threat of radical Islam, a powerful, organized, informed and mobilized voice,” according to its website.

The book’s publisher, Pearson Education, “reaffirmed its commitment to a balanced and accurate coverage of world religions.” The “myWorld History” program is used in thousands of classrooms nationwide, a spokeswoman said.

Kerr states in the report that “there are no errors or misrepresentations in the textbook at issue which are significant enough to render it unusable as a curricular resource.”

“I believe the board has been very supportive of our teachers and administrators and concur that the administrative report brings closure to this topic,” Kerr said.

As part of the administrative review, the district asked a second pastor, the Rev. Clifton J. Suehr, to review the book. Suehr is pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in Irwin and president of the Norwin Ministerium.

In his report to the district, Suehr called the book “well-written and enriching” and “well-suited for middle school-aged youth.”

“Without using inflammatory language, a historical overview is presented in an even-handed manner,” Suehr wrote.

Leonatti said he believes a conflict of interest exists because Tracy McNelly, assistant superintendent of secondary education, is a member of Suehr’s church and helped to review the book for the district.

But Kerr said there is no conflict of interest and “no validity to any conspiracy theory.”

“(Suehr’s) credentials are exceptional,” he said. “Why not reach out to a very well-respected and well-known community member here in Norwin?”

Kerr said the district will address curriculum issues as they arise.

“Whatever time it takes, we’ll take the necessary time to do any comprehensive review,” he said.

The district’s focus should remain on teacher quality and the effectiveness of how they instruct, he said.

“Norwin isn’t going to have any curriculum or textbook that’s going to be harmful to students,” Kerr said. “We are here in this case to teach about cultures. Part of culture is religion and tradition. We have made every effort to teach comparative religion in a nonbiased, nondevotional way.”