School board member questions Wisconsin district’s choice for world history text

Monday, July 27, 1998

A member of a public school board in Wisconsin has focused the district's attention on a tentatively adopted world history textbook she claims does not say enough about Christianity.

Just two weeks before the fall term starts for students at Kewaskum High School, Mary Andera, a school board member, has challenged the district's tentative approval of a world history textbook. The book, World History: The Human Experience, published by Glencoe/McGraw Hill, does not contain enough detail about Christianity and Jesus, Andera told other school board members. Although the district has been given approval to buy the book, the superintendent has yet to give the go-ahead for the book's use.

George Allmann, the district's curriculum coordinator and business manager, said that he was awaiting final approval for the book by the board and superintendent.

Andera, however, would like the school board to dump the text, which was approved by a district committee of social studies teachers, and search for another.

According to Andera, the textbook's description of the spread of Christianity is cursory and only two paragraphs describe the life of Jesus Christ.

“I understand that the book is to be used for a survey of world history and that students are supposed to look into other cultures,” Andera said. “But the book chosen is simply unbalanced and inaccurate.”

Besides giving short shrift to Jesus, Andera said the text implied that Christianity was shoved down people's throats and that most of its history involved in-fighting. “That is like looking at a family and only pointing out the negative stuff,” she said. Also, she said the textbook inaccurately suggested that early Christians living under the Roman Empire were not actively persecuted by the Romans.

Andera said she did not want Kewaskum ninth-graders to use the book, even if they had to go a couple of weeks with no book. “I would just as soon have the kids without a book than to have something this inadequate,” she said. “I will continue to work hard to make sure the book is not used.”

Instead, Andera wants the district to review textbooks recommended by the American Text Book Council. An Ohio-based history education council sent her information about other textbooks, she said, and she forwarded the material to the superintendent's office.

Allmann said the district was not ready to make a change.

“I'm in total disagreement with Andera's understanding of the text,” Allmann said. “She is way off base on its content and I don't agree with the religious bent she has taken. I think her objections are not based on sufficient knowledge.”

Allmann said the book was chosen because it fit the district's curriculum, which is based on national social studies standards. He said a change would not come “overnight.”

Andera said she hoped a special meeting will be called to discuss other alternatives.

Charles Haynes, The Freedom Forum's senior scholar, who has written extensively on the role of religion in public schools, said religion often is not treated fairly in the nation's public schools. Although he had not seen the Kewaskum book, he said religion is often short-changed in public school textbooks.

“Though we all agree that it's constitutional to teach about religion, we have not yet taken religion seriously,” Haynes said. “We can hardly say that we are offering a good social studies curriculum if in fact we leave out perspectives, religious ideas and religious influences.”

Allmann, however, defended the district's choice and said the book did indeed provide an adequate and accurate description of Christianity. Allmann said the text covered contemporary as well as early Christianity.