‘Right-ing' History: Inaccuracies in Textbooks

A Massachusetts high school student is speaking out about what she says is outdated and possibly offensive information in one of her textbooks. Her concern, in light of the recent attacks in Paris, sheds light on just how misunderstood religion is in today's culture.

"We're all learning, the students, wrong information," said Dartmouth High School student Mira Mikhaiel.

Mikhaiel is looking for clarity about what she read in her World Studies textbook.

Born in Egypt, she grew up listening to stories her father told her about ancient Egyptians.

"All of the history of Egypt and what Egypt had done with the pyramids and the Sphinx and mummification," she explained.

That's why a chapter about the history of Islam didn't sound right to her.

Mikhaiel is Christian. Egypt has a long history of turmoil between Muslim and Christian people - turmoil that is ongoing. So even this seemingly innocent text has a much greater impact today.

"And then in the end, it says, 'Christians failed to observe the laws of Moses and Jesus and distorted Jesus' message,'" she said. "For me, a history textbook is supposed to be about the history ... When you start criticizing another religion, that's no longer history."

The textbook also claimed pharmacy as an institution is an Islamic invention; Mira is not so sure about that.

"Ancient Egypt had already had pharmacies, and had hospitals and had doctors," she said.

Mikhaiel took her concerns to her principal, Dr. John Gould - a former history teacher.

"Her views could be subjective, but there are certain things that aren't subjective," he said.

The text in question was published in 2011.

Gould and Mikhaiel were disappointed to find out how old the research was.

"I think that in looking at the textbook and the section, Chapter 9, 'The Islamic World,' there are 25 sources that are cited," Gould said. "Two of those 16 were published in the 1950s."

Gould hopes to bring these concerns to the publisher. He has since sat down with his history teachers to discuss how they can best teach that text.

"They move forward within their lesson plan, being conscious that these sources are pretty old," he said. "So you have to keep that in mind and you have to contextualize it and supplement it with primary sources."

Mikhaiel’s father, speaking in his native Arabic, says he is proud his daughter spoke up. That's why he brought his family to this country.

"I want to make sure if I teach my kids, I teach them something right," said Okasha Mikhaiel.

And Mira Mikhaiel understands that.

"It makes me appreciate more where I come from and my heritage and my history," she said.

Necn reached out to the company that publishes the book, Bedford/St. Martin's. A spokesperson said that they have not had any complaints about the textbook, but they would be willing to meet with the Dartmouth principal.

Interestingly enough, Mikhaiel plans to go to college to study pharmacy.

In the meantime, Gould organized a committee of staff and teachers to carefully choose text books before the district makes a purchase.

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