On Campus

High school student sparks review of textbook, says it is biased

Textbook used in high school and college questions global warming, contain misinformation about praying in public schools

A New Jersy high school student who once spoke out against a teacher for making religious remarks in the classroom now has his sights set on a textbook publisher. Matthew LaClair believes he sees signs of conservative bias in the textbook being used in his Advanced Placement American government class. Some legal scholars and top scientists say his criticism is well-founded.

Those experts say “American Government” by conservatives James Wilson and John Dilulio presents a skewed view of topics such as global warming and separation of church and state. The publisher now says it will review the book, as will the College Board, which oversees college-level Advanced Placement courses used in high schools.

“I just realized from my own knowledge that some of this stuff in the book is just plain wrong,” La Clair said.

LaClair drew national attention in the fall of 2006, when he tape recorded his teacher telling a U.S. history class that those who don’t believe Jesus died for their sins “belong in hell.” The recordings also captured the teacher dismissing evolution and the “Big Bang” theory, and telling students that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark.

Many people at the school were upset with LaClair for raising the issue, but his mother, Debra, said her son was simply providing his peers with another kind of civics lesson. “When he sees something that is incorrect, he wants to fix it,” she said. “That’s him. That’s what he does.”

LaClair brought his concerns about the textbook to the Center for Inquiry, an Amherst, N.Y., think tank that promotes science. The center has issued a scathing report about the textbook.

The textbook is designed for a college audience, but also is widely used in AP American government courses, said Richard Blake, a spokesman for the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Co. Blake said the company “will be working with the authors to evaluate in detail the criticisms of the Center for Inquiry.” Blake also said some disputed passages already have been excised from the newest edition of the book.

Both authors are considered conservative. Dilulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor, formerly worked for the Bush administration as director of faith-based initiatives. Wilson is the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University in California. Neither responded immediately to calls from the Associated Press seeking comment.

LaClair said he was particularly upset about the book’s treatment of global warming. The book says that “science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all.” A newer edition published late last year was changed to say, “Science doesn’t know how bad the greenhouse effect is,” but the authors kept a phrase stating that global warming is “enmeshed in scientific uncertainty.” While there are still some scientists who downplay global warming and the role of burning fossil fuels, the overwhelming majority of cli mate scientists and peer-reviewed scientific research say human activity is causing climate change.

James Hansen, the director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, recently heard about La Clair’s concerns and has lent him some support. Hansen has sent Houghton Mifflin a letter stating that the book’s discussion on global warming contained “a large number of clearly erroneous statements” that give students “the mistaken impression that the scientific evidence of global warming is doubtful and uncertain.”

LaClair also was concerned about the textbook’s treatment of U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding prayer in school. The book shows a picture of children praying in front of a Virginia high school and states, “The Supreme Court will not let this happen inside a public school.” The accompanying text states that the court has ruled as “unconstitutional every effort to have any form of prayer in public schools, even if it is nonsectarian, voluntary or limited to reading a passage of the Bible.”

Those examples are not correct, says Charles Haynes, a religious liberties expert at the First Amendment Center in Washington. “Students can pray inside a public school in many different ways,” Haynes said, adding they can pray alone or in groups before lunch or in religious clubs, for example.

-with a report from CP

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