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Stop tragedy unfolding in Utah schools

An educational tragedy is unfolding this fall in scores of Utah fourth-grade classrooms. Thousands of Utah fourth-graders will be taught a biased, at times offensive and substantially inaccurate account of Utah and Western history, Utah's natural resource issues and Native American cultures.

The problem is the textbook going into service for the "Utah Studies" portion of the fourth-grade curriculum. Titled "The Utah Adventure," it contains numerous factual errors - cause enough for concern in any textbook. However, more serious problems arise from the way factual errors are woven together with the omission of various important facts, and with the presentation as fact of observations and representations that are, at best, highly controversial or debatable. The result is that Utah's fourth-graders are not being educated so much as they are being indoctrinated with views the textbook's author and publisher consider politically correct.The section on natural resource issues in Utah provides an example of the problems. A national debate is raging over how approximately one-third of the land area of the United States, which is controlled by the federal government, should be managed. Some want to "preserve" increasing amounts of this land by making it off limits to natural resource use and extraction. Others want to keep the maximum amount of land open to multiple uses so the American people can gain economic as well as aesthetic benefit of the lands and natural resources they own. In Utah, this national debate has been crystallized in the wilderness debate.

It may be appropriate for this debate to be introduced to fourth-graders but only if both sides are presented in a fair and balanced manner. "The Utah Adventure" presents only the anti-use side.

The historical biases and omissions are even more egregious. For example, the section describing the interactions between the white settlers and Native Americans in Utah focuses on conflicts. It does not even mention the often successful attempts at cooperation and peaceful coexistence. There is no mention of the attitude of tolerance and respect toward Native Americans advocated by early Mormon leader Brigham Young, which was practiced by many of the Utah pioneers.

It must be emphasized that the problems with this text are not simply sloppy scholarship or slipshod editing. In the teacher's guide accompanying the text-book, the author is remarkably candid in explaining that he wants to indoctrinate the students using the text with the views and perspectives he thinks are politically correct. In addition, the text is published by a firm owned by a well-known Utah environmental activist.

With that in mind, it is most surprising that the Utah State Office of Education allowed the text to appear in the classroom in the first place. The only textbooks that can be used in Utah schools are those the State Office approves.

Parents should be able to depend on this office to prevent the very problems that are so numerous with this text.

There are several things that can and must be done at this point. Most immediate is to issue a supplement to the teacher's guide alerting teachers who are using it to the many problems with the text. While this remedy is inadequate, it is the minimum that must be done.

Second, is to begin planning, on an emergency basis, for a replacement textbook.

Third, a thorough investigation must be conducted of the teaching materials review and screening procedures of the State Office of Education. This experience clearly demonstrates that those procedures need to be drastically revamped and perhaps transferred to an independent entity.

Fourth, all textbooks currently on the approved list that deal with controversial areas such as social studies must be reviewed by an independent panel.

This incident should be a warning to parents.