December 8, 2021

Education or Indoctrination?

The Treatment of Islam in 6th through 12 th Grade American Textbooks

Executive Summary

“indoctrinate: to teach (a person or group of people) systematically to accept doctrines, esp. uncritically” (The Free Dictionary)
“indoctrinate: teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically”
(Oxford Dictionaries)
“Indoctrination…is often distinguished from education by the fact that the
indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine
they have learned.” (Wikipedia)
“Examples of indoctrinate: 1.The goal should be to teach politics, rather than to
indoctrinate students in a narrow set of political beliefs.” (Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
The line between “education” and “indoctrination” is, at times, a fine one, and often not a
bright one. However, common sense dictates that greater care should be taken to avoid
what appears to be indoctrination when the objects of the information are children and
youth. Experience demonstrates that children are more malleable than adults. Adults
can be reasonably expected to be more able than children to distinguish between
objective education and indoctrination.
Therefore, what is taught to children in our public schools should be subjected to a
higher standard of scrutiny in order to ensure that what is taking place in the classroom
is “education” rather than “indoctrination.” This is especially the case when the subject
matter is world religions.
This Report does not argue that Islam should not be taught in our public schools. The
major religions of the world are one part of our human history, and to exclude teaching
about them impedes our understanding of who we are and why the world is at it is.
But when it comes to the teaching of any religion, Islam included, extra care should be
exercised by textbook writers and teachers to ensure that what is being taught to their
diverse student population is in fact “education” and not “indoctrination.” In public
schools Muslim parents would no more want their children indoctrinated in Christianity,
Judaism or Hinduism than Christian, Jewish or Hindu parents would want their children
indoctrinated in Islam – regardless of whether what amounted to indoctrination was the
result of honest mistakes, inattention to detail, ignorance of the subject matter, or
Thus the question posed by this Report. Does the manner in which Islam is generally
presented in 6th through 12th grade public school textbooks constitute proper and
appropriate education – or does it amount to indoctrination?
Is Islam presented in a manner in which facts are embellished and its virtues
exaggerated, while unfavorable, negative or detrimental information about the religion is
omitted, glossed over, understated, or rationalized, thus amounting to “indoctrination”
rather than education?
Is Islam presented in a manner that leads students to predetermined conclusions about
the religion that are unsupported by historical facts and critical analysis, amounting to
“teach[ing] (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically?”
This Report set out to address and answer these questions.  For as the British philosopher and
educator Richard Stanley Peters wrote: “What matters is not what any
individual thinks, but what is true. A teacher who does not equip his pupils with the
rudimentary tools to discover this is substituting indoctrination for teaching.” (As quoted on
This Executive Summary represents a summary of the findings of ACT! for America
Education’s analysis of the treatment of Islam in thirty-eight, 6th through 12th grade
American textbooks that date from 1999-2011.
The full Report reveals a pattern of historical revisionism, omissions, and bias in the
presentation of all aspects devoted to Islam in these textbooks. These aspects include its
theology and doctrines, its role as a world religion, its on-going struggle with Western tradition,
and its intrinsic anti-Semitism.
Since the mid-1990s, the number of units devoted to Islam in world history textbooks has
significantly increased while the number of pages allocated to Judaism and Christianity
has conspicuously decreased.
This disparity raises the question as to whether the inequality represents what would amount to
the validation of Professor John L. Esposito’s unsubstantiated claim of the existence of a “Judeo-Christian
-Islamic tradition” for America.
What’s more, the predominant place given to Islam in these textbooks highlights the issue of proselytization
in the classroom, an issue raised by parents in Byron, California when they claimed that their children
were being indoctrinated in Islam.
Pearson Prentice Hall has an excellent article on its website delineating how world religions should be
taught in world history classes:
“It is clear that the teaching about religion in the world history classroom is both
constitutionally acceptable and educationally sound. Even a brief look at recently
published world history textbooks indicates how seriously textbook publishers
now take their responsibility to address religion in the history classroom. Religious
scholars are extensively consulted as contributors and content reviewers. Themes
such as Religions and Value Systems or Diversity speak to the need for today’s
students to understand perspectives and beliefs that differ from their own…
Familiarity with world religious beliefs and traditions enhances students’ understanding
of literature, art, architecture, culture, and history. In addition, educators today acknowledge
that an understanding of the histories and belief systems of a diversity of religious traditions
is vital and necessary if students are to grasp the complexity of contemporary issues such as the
conflicts in the Middle East, the unrest in Afghanistan, the troubles in Northern Ireland, and the
continuing struggles in the Balkans. Studying the role of religion in history helps students learn
to value religious liberty and respect cultural diversity, important criteria in maintaining democracy
and world peace…
Pedagogy: Understanding what is constitutionally permissible and
developing strategies for dealing with religious content in the curriculum
in ways that are educationally sound, fair, neutral, objective, and sensitive.
Content: Obtaining accurate knowledge of the various faiths and their
traditions covered by the curriculum, to ensure a fair and sensitive treatment
in classroom lessons.”
The “Pedagogy” and “Content” definitions above provide excellent distinctions between
“education” and “indoctrination.”  “Sound,” “fair,” neutral,” “objective,” “sensitive,”and
“accurate” are the hallmarks of “education,” rather than “indoctrination.”
If all the major publishing houses, including Pearson Prentice Hall, adhered to such guidelines and
criteria with respect to the treatment of Islam, there would be no need for a Report like
this. However, the full Report will demonstrate, as summarized in this Executive
Summary, that the way Islam is typically presented in school textbooks violates the
standards noted above that call for religions to be dealt with in “sound,” “fair”, “neutral,”“objective,”
“sensitive,” and “accurate” ways.
Education or indoctrination?
In addition to falsely stating that jihad “military conflict” is solely defensive, this
language inaccurately implies that the “‘struggle,’ to do one’s best to resist
temptation and overcome evil ” is the primary meaning of jihad, and that warfare is only
a secondary and occasional meaning. This is a common misrepresentation in the
textbooks reviewed.  While the Qur’an does contain verses that refer to spiritual striving,
both the Qur’an and the most authoritative hadith make it clear that “fight[ing] in the cause of Allah” is the
highest form of jihad.
The horrors of the European-operated Atlantic slave trade are appropriately depicted in
the textbooks reviewed, while the same books are virtually silent on the horrors of the
Islamic-operated slave trade, which started eight centuries earlier and lasted much
longer.  The horrors of European conquest and imperialism are appropriately depicted in
the textbooks reviewed, while the same books fail to even identify Islamic imperialism as
“imperialism” and generally sanitize, downplay or omit the horrors of that imperialism. The Crusades are
inaccurately depicted as an effort by Christians to “conquer” lands owned by Muslims, when in fact Muslims
were the initial aggressors, invading those lands and conquering the Christians and Jews more than
four centuries earlier. The Arab-Israeli conflict is falsely depicted as being instigated by Jews who unlawfully
expropriated land from the Arabs, rather than by Arabs who refused to accept the UN two-state partition plan
and attacked Israel.
While there are, of course, differences in the number, extent, and nature of errors from
textbook to textbook, the typical textbook treatment of Islam does not meet the Pearson
Prentice Hall standard, quoted at the beginning of this Executive Summary, of soundness,
fairness, neutrality, objectivity and accuracy. More often than not, the typical treatment of Islam
amounts more to indoctrination than to education.
The full executive summary can be read and downloaded here.  The full report can be read and downloaded here.