Investigative reporting by the Orlando Sentinel reveals that private schools in Florida receiving public funding are using curriculum that teaches troubling material: that Noah likely took baby dinosaurs onto the ark, for example, or that God interceded to prevent Catholics from taking over North America.
The lessons taught at these schools come from three Christian publishing companies whose textbooks are popular on many of about 2,000 campuses that accept, and often depend on, nearly $1 billion in state scholarships, or vouchers.
At the Orlando Sentinel’s request, educators from Florida colleges and school districts reviewed textbooks and workbooks from these publishers, looking at elementary reading and math, middle school social studies and high school biology materials.
They found numerous instances of distorted history and science lessons that are outside mainstream academics. The books denounce evolution as untrue, for example, and one shows a cartoon of men and dinosaurs together, telling students the Biblical Noah likely brought baby dinosaurs onto his ark. The science books, they added, seem to discourage students from doing experiments or even asking questions.
Other issues present in the material – all of which came from Abeka, BJU Press and Accelerated Christian Education, or ACE – included the downplaying of non-European cultures, the promotion of Protestant Christianity as a superior religion, and distortions surrounding slavery and Native Americans.
The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans, they said. One book, in its brief section on the civil rights movement, said that “most black and white southerners had long lived together in harmony” and that “power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.”
The books are rife with religious and political opinions on topics such as abortion, gay rights and the Endangered Species Act, which one labels a “radical social agenda.” They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from white Europeans. Experts said that was particularly worrisome given that about 60 percent of scholarship students are black or Hispanic.
The social studies materials paint a distinctly conservative Evangelical picture of U.S. history, according to the educators who reviewed the textbooks.
The texts focus on white men, ignore women and sometimes insult people from Africa, Asia and Latin America, worrisome given the students using them in Florida. “You’re sending a dangerous message to these students, in particular, as if they’re punished in their own history,” [Christopher Busey, an education professor at UF, who reviewed the materials] said.
The BJU text said “God provided” North America as a place for the Protestant church to flourish, keeping Catholics to Central America and South America.
An ACE workbook notes Native Americans were forced off their lands but then blames them for becoming “dependent on their government.” The Abeka book said in a section on “evangelizing black Americans” that “the slave who knew Christ had more freedom than a free person who did not know the Savior.”
The Sentinel reports that 80 percent of Florida children who receive vouchers use them to attend religious schools, and of those, the majority go to Christian schools, where these texts are more likely to be used.