Houghton Mifflin

Houghton Mifflin Co. News Release - 02/12/2002


BOSTON, Mass., February 12, 2002 -- Houghton Mifflin Company released the following statement in response to press inquires regarding its "Across the Centuries" textbook:

On February 11, the New York Post published an editorial by Daniel Pipes about Houghton Mifflin's "Across the Centuries" social studies textbook. Although Mr. Pipes may have more than thirty years studying Islam, it is important to understand that his critique of "Across the Centuries" is not based upon reading the text, nor with the understanding of standards to which the book was written. It is very distressing that during a time in which cultural understanding is paramount, that Mr. Pipes would write such a politically and emotionally charged article based on misinformation.

Assumptions and accusations are made in Mr. Pipes' editorial about omissions or interpretations of the text. Most of the accusations are based on his own bias and his choice to cite passages out-of-context. Mr. Pipes did not contact Houghton Mifflin to obtain correct information about "Across the Centuries." Houghton Mifflin has always taken a neutral, fact-based approach to writing all of its educational publications, striving for a fair account of history. Furthermore, a multi-cultural and multi-faith panel of scholars reviewed and approved "Across the Centuries" before publication.

"Across the Centuries" is part of a two-book series developed for the state of California. State standards required that the Grade 6 text, "A Message of Ancient Days," teach "the dawn of the major Western and non-Western ancient civilizations" including the origins of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. The Grade 7 text was to teach "the social, cultural, and technological changes that occurred in Europe, Africa, and Asia in the years 500-1789 AD."

The California Board of Education determined which topics were covered, and in which grade they are covered. Therefore, due to the chronology of history, and the standards determined by the State of California, Islam was not covered during the same school year as other religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, which are covered during the sixth grade school year.

The state also mandated which specific topics were to be taught during each unit. Houghton Mifflin was provided with an outline of topic areas to be covered and had to provide the detailed information about each historical event. As directed by the state of California, these books were to be written with "Historical Empathy." Thus, the textbooks do not focus on accounts of violence, cruelty or hatred on the part of any religion. In accordance with California state standards, "Across the Centuries" focuses on how the beliefs of certain cultures help shape their motivation and their effect on history.

However, contrary to Mr. Pipes' argument, the text does in fact mention instances of Muslim religious intolerance (chapter 4, page 81), just as it cites early missionary work and imperialism, as well as the Crusades and intolerance by the Christians.

Readers should also keep in mind that "Across the Centuries" covers material only up to 1789. Therefore, some of the issues regarding Muslim women's rights as compared to women's rights in other cultures are quite accurate. Again, because this text examines a certain period of time, ending in 1789, human rights issues of modern Muslim, Jewish, and Christian peoples are not included in the text. Information about modern history is covered in Houghton Mifflin's other textbooks, namely "Modern World History -- Patterns in Interaction," which covers present day issues, and includes a special supplement about September 11th -- one of the first to be offered by any textbook publisher.

In this post-September 11 environment, no American needs to be reminded of the significance of religion domestically and in the global community. Part of understanding complex cultural issues requires religious empathy. Throughout the two-part series of textbooks, students are asked to complete writing exercises from the perspective of various historical figures. Mr. Pipes' accusations about solely pro-Muslim creative writing assignments in "Across the Centuries" are based on misinformation. Throughout the two texts, students are asked to write from the perspective of Athenians, Spartans, Greeks, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, among others. These lessons ask students to take a look at history through the eyes of those who shaped it. Through activities such as these, students gain an understanding of how and why people acted as they did, and begin to think critically about how they might have acted similarly or differently. Nowhere in either textbook are students asked to engage in "mock-religious" activities, wear religious or cultural clothing, nor are they encouraged to exercise the beliefs of any particular religious group. They are simply asked to understand what people of each culture believed.

Mr. Pipes tells readers that Houghton Mifflin establishes events according to Islamic faith as fact. The writers of these textbooks were very careful to qualify their statements about religious "events" with statements like "Muhammad is believed by his followers to have had a vision from Gabriel..." "Muhammad's followers believe that in another vision..." "The God he believed in..." (chapter 3, page 58). Each of these accounts of the Islamic faith are qualified as fact only according to the believers of the Islamic religion. Mr. Pipes omitted those citations. It should also be noted that the same qualifiers are used when describing other religions' historical events. Accounts of the life of Jesus are explained as "according to the New Testament..." (Chapter 10, page 318 of "A Message of Ancient Days") and accounts of Jewish faith are explained as "according to the Bible" (Chapter 10, page 309 of "A Message of Ancient Days").

Regarding Mr. Pipes' accusations of implied acceptance of Muhammad's mission, the textbooks refer to several historical figures in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths as prophets. The term prophet was not used as an endorsement for any one religion but as a term to describe religious figures.

Houghton Mifflin takes great care in editing its books to accurately portray history from all angles. A panel comprised of scholars from every major cultural and religious group, who are members of the religious or cultural group they represent, review each book and screen for any bias or unfair representation of their group, or any other group. "Across the Centuries" and "A Message of Ancient Days" have both received approval from, among others, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scholars alike -- confirming that each religion is portrayed as its believers see it, not just as outsides may perceive it.

One of the recommendations of this panel was to clarify the meaning of the word "jihad." Often misunderstood, this word means "to struggle or to do ones best to resist temptation and overcome evil." The book also states "the Qur'an and Sunna allow for self-defense and participation in military conflict, but restrict it to the right to defend against aggression and persecution." This definition was suggested by Islamic, Judaic and Christian scholars, among others, as the correct representation of the word "jihad." Many Americans have come to see the word "jihad" as some Islamic fundamentalists use it, as a right or a mission to kill and destroy. However, the vast majority of Muslims do not share this view, and assert that a "jihad" is not necessarily an act of violence. It is the role of educators to dispel misconceptions and prejudices about religion and culture.

Lastly, Mr. Pipes asserts that religion, or at least Islam, should be approached "from the outside" and not as believers. In public schools, religion and culture should certainly not be learned as believers. However, learning about it must be based on information from believers. Houghton Mifflin's goal is truth in education. Our efforts in "Across the Centuries" and all of our textbooks are to eliminate misconceptions and ignorance, and help our children develop the critical thinking skills and the cultural understanding to build a peaceful future.

Collin Earnst
Director, Media Relations
Houghton Mifflin Company

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