Students and Parents Push for Better Textbooks to Help Fight Hate and StereotypesHistorians in the News
tags: teachers, education, textbooks
Sitting in her high school AP world history class, Rimsha Abbasi suddenly found herself in the uncomfortable position of explaining the word “jihad.” The class conversation in suburban Northern Virginia had turned to Islam, and Abbasi’s teacher suggested she lead the discussion.
The task felt daunting. Her peers may have had ideas “in their heads about what jihad is, about what Islam is,” the 18-year-old said. But she felt compelled to explain that the Arabic word means “struggle,” despite negative connotations tethered to it.
“If I didn’t explain what that meant, I wouldn’t want someone else to then have a misinterpretation of that,” Abbasi said. “That would have been more painful.”
That’s why, when public schools in Loudoun County, Va., selected history textbooks this year, Abbasi demanded that the school system reject three works she and many others decried as culturally insensitive and Islamophobic.
They, like many others across the country, are countering false or incomplete portrayals of their communities in textbooks and class lessons. Students, parents and educators are calling for material that reflects a diversity of experiences, saying it’s a matter of providing a fuller telling of history.
The discussions are unfolding during a time of dramatic demographic shifts in the nation’s public schools. Students of color made up a majority of the country’s public school population for the first time in 2014, and the federal government projects the percentage of white student enrollment will continue to fall.