The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum. Germans and world leaders turned blind eyes to the growing anti-Semitism in Germany while Adolf Hitler incrementally executed his evil agenda. Despite annual reminders to “never forget,” schools across the United States, and specifically in the State of Tennessee, are once again oblivious to the anti-Semitic rhetoric that has infiltrated our schools.
One such community is Williamson County, Tennessee that sits in the “belt-buckle” of the Bible belt and is one of the 10 most influential conservative counties in the country. One must ask, how could this have happened in a region of the United States that is heavily populated by Evangelical Christians, including Christian educators?
In November 2012, a Williamson County parent was concerned over the content in her son’s geography textbook for his AP Human Geography class. The passage in question is taken from “The Cultural Landscape Curriculum – An Introduction to Human Geography,” under the subject heading, “Why Has Terrorism Increased?”
The author states:
Distinguishing terrorism from other acts of political violence can be difficult. For example, “If a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?” Competing arguments are made: Israel’s sympathizers denounce the act as a terrorist threat to the country’s existence, whereas advocates of the Palestinian cause argue that long-standing injustices and Israeli army attacks on ordinary Palestinian civilians provoked the act.
The “Arab/Israeli” conflict is used as an example of why terrorism is on the rise and the difficulty one has in distinguishing terrorism from acts of violence. The writer suggests through implication that the Palestinians are justified in murdering innocent Israelis because they have chosen terrorism as “their” legitimate right to wage war.
Although the author chose the “Arab/Israeli” conflict, why did he not use 9/11? After all, it is relevant to students’ understanding of the threat America faces in the global war on terrorism.
When applied, the same logic articulated in the textbook legitimizes terror attacks against Jews in Israel as a result of “political violence.” Were the 19 terrorists who attacked the U.S. in general, and Americans specifically, justified because of U.S. policies in the Middle East?
Regarding the recent bombing in Boston, were the terrorists involved justified in attacking innocent U.S. citizens at the Boston Marathon because of U.S. policies in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan?
Not only does the curriculum promote terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians, but it is factually inaccurate. The historic and archaeological evidence of the Jewish presence in the land of Israel dates back almost 4,000 years. Furthermore, the textbook defines Hezbollah and Hamas as “political organizations.” In fact, they are classified as terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department.
A situation arose last year when a high school student in Franklin, Tennessee began to question Israel’s legitimate rights to the land. Upon further questioning, the parents discovered that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was at the United Nations in New York City. The Franklin High School Human Geography teacher invited a guest speaker to the class to discuss the Middle East conflict on November 29, 2012, the same day as the UN’s vote on the Palestinian Authority’s non-member state status.
As a result of comments made by the guest speaker, the textbook, the teacher’s comments and additional handouts on the topic, the student assumed that Israel did not have a legitimate right to the land. The parent then questioned another student from the class who stated, “If it weren’t for this class, we wouldn’t know anything about the dangerous Zionist agenda.”
The parents met with the Franklin High School faculty in December to present the concerns articulated in the curriculum and requested that the school take action by providing an alternative textbook that would offer factually accurate information. Not only were their requests denied, they were also insulted when the Williamson County superintendent of curriculum, Tim Gaddis, suggested they were bigots at the close of the meeting.
The Williamson County superintendent, Dr. Mike Looney, repeatedly stated that the parents are taking the quote in the textbook out of context. However, other Jewish and Christian leaders have also stated that the quote is unacceptable. For example:
Russell D. Moore, president-elect of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, says he uses provocative questions to help “teach people how to wrestle through difficult questions and identify motives behind actions.” He said, “I use provocative case studies when teaching ethics.” However, Moore said he believes the passage “crosses a moral line beyond intellectual provocation. The [killing of] innocent civilian Israeli teenagers by terrorist groups is not a morally complex question, it is clearly evil,” he said. “This is compounded by the horrific anti-Semitic violence the world has seen over the last century. If I were a parent of a child in this school system, I would be upset also.”
Mark S. Freedman, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, stated:
It has come to our attention that a textbook currently being used by the Williamson County Schools seeks to balance acts of terror with legitimate political disputes. We are extremely concerned that Williamson County public school students are being led to believe that terrorist acts of Palestinian suicide bombers can be justified as “wartime retaliation” against Israeli government policies. In our view such a question should never have been asked in such an inappropriate manner, as is evidence in this textbook. To create moral equivalency between specific acts of terror and legitimate territorial disputes that are political in nature serves to legitimize wanton and pre-meditated violence against innocent civilian victims.
Arnold Cohen, Chair of the Knoxville Jewish Federation states:
Do not think that your child is protected if they are in a “Christian” or “private” school. This curriculum is being peddled to our children around the state and across this nation. Parents must take action and demand accountability of our educators to remove this type of biased curriculum from our elementary, junior and senior high schools, as well as our schools of higher learning.
The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum, and in the words of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, “Indifference to evil is evil.”
Parents of students in Williamson County Schools are calling on the Williamson County School Board to remove the textbook in question and implement stricter guidelines with regard to the selection of curriculum in adherence to the highest achievement standards that parents expect for students in Williamson County.
Tax-paying citizens have made tremendous financial investments to send their children to Williamson County schools. Mistakes such as these are unacceptable. The public should expect nothing less than excellence from all schools and certainly from those employed to produce the next citizens of a free, fair and independent nation.
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