Study of U.S. Textbooks Shows They Ignore Modern Jewish Contributions

A survey of 120 leading textbooks used in the elementary schools in this country established that they appear to favor Protestantism over Catholicism and Christianity over Judaism, and ignore the pluralistic nature of American life.

The three-year study, “The Treatment of Religion in Elementary School Social Studies Textbooks,” was conducted by Dr. Judah J. Harris, a New York educator. Its findings were disclosed at the fiftieth annual meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, now underway at the Sheraton Park Hotel here. Among the conclusions of the study:

1. Textbooks as a whole neglect Jewish history and Judaism after the Bible period–modern Jewish contributions to our society are largely ignored. In addition the relationship of Jesus to the Jews is often portrayed in a manner too superficial to dispel misconceptions underlying anti-Semitism.

2. While the textbooks studied stress the importance of religion as a motivating force in past history, they treat contemporary religion as being primarily a matter of church-going, with a limited role in welfare services and character education. The study said that Judaism is often treated in textbooks as “being outdated, having exhausted its contributions in the Biblical period.”

The study established that the treatment of religious persecutions is “either simplified or ignored to such a degree that young Americans never have a chance to learn about the need for improving interreligious attitudes.”

The study found that only five of the eleven texts that discussed Hitler and Nazism mentioned the subject of persecution of Jews. Of these five, one offered no indication at all as to whether Hitler’s policy was moral or not.

Beyond that, the study found that textbooks present persecution as “the characteristic element” of Jewish history for the past 2,500 years. However, the persecution of non-Jewish groups was treated in an entirely different fashion–as just one factor in the overall development of religious groups which were also related to their culture and contributions.

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