It was the first week in October in Newton, an upscale suburb of Boston, and Tony Pagliuso’s daughter, a sophomore at Newton South High School, was visibly disturbed. When Tony asked her the problem, she showed him a passage from the chapter she was assigned in her World History Class. It was a chapter called “Women, an Essay,” from a supplemental text called the The Arab World Notebook. In a paragraph devoted to women “in the struggle for independence from colonial powers,” we find:
Over the past four decades, women have been active in the Palestinian resistance movement. Several hundred have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed by Israeli occupation forces since the latest uprising, “intifada,” in the Israeli occupied territories.
Pagliuso assured his daughter that this was “total propaganda,” and took the matter up with the young teacher, a Miss Jessica Engel, who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The material had been “vetted” and was deemed “appropriate,” she said, “and would stay in the curriculum. After all, she continued, the head of the history department had gotten this material at an outreach workshop of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard!
Thence to the principal, Joel Stembridge, who glared at Pagliuso and asked, “How do you pronounce ‘Pagliuso’?” and dismissing him brusquely with a refusal to apologize, added: “If you’re unhappy with this, you should know that next year we’re planning to teach material that will be even more inflammatory to your sensibilities.” (Where is Ferris Bueller when you need him?) Since Miss Jessica Engel had devoted one day each to Judaism and Christianity while spending 2 ½ weeks on Islam, Tony wasn’t sure how much more imbalanced things could get.
A couple of weeks later, nine stalwart Newton citizens presented themselves at the Newton School Committee meeting, where superintendent David Fleischman, and even the mayor, Setti Warren, were present. The citizens were courteously received, and as it happens Fleishman announced shortly thereafter that indeed the chapter “didn’t meet the learning goals of the class” and had been removed from the curriculum.
“Didn’t meet the learning goals” is Eduspeak for “What the hell is this and how the hell did it get in?” The answer to the latter is, as noted, Harvard, which, as it happens, held a seminar on Israel and Palestine at Newton South in April 2011. And Newton is far from the only community to take its lead on matters Islamic from Harvard. Public and private schools all over Massachusetts send teachers to the Outreach Center at Harvard for guidance and (free) materials. The program, like the Center for Middle Eastern Studies itself, is heavily Saudi-funded.
The answer to what it is can be found in a number of places. In 2005, responding to a complaint from a teacher in Anchorage, Alaska, the American Jewish Committee published a thorough critique of the Notebook (the full report Propaganda, Proselytizing, and Public Education, is available at the AJC website), thanks to which Anchorage stopped using the book. As background, the AJC report explains:
The Arab World Studies Notebook was first published in 1990 under the title Arab World Notebook [apparently Newton was using this edition], but was updated and republished in 1998 with its current title. The funding for the publication was provided by the Middle East Policy Council, formerly the Arab American Affairs Council….The Notebook was published in conjunction with Arab World and Islamic Resources (AWAIR), founded by Audrey Shabbas, who penned many of the articles…as well as the editorial commentary throughout.