A recent article in the New York Post focused on criticism that a recently administered Regents exam in global history and geography “featured glowing passages pertaining to Muslim society but much more critical essay excerpts on the subject of Christianity.” Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski is among the religious studies experts interviewed about the tests.
“Some [essays] suggest a kind of Christian triumphalism and the desire to convert the other that is not present in the treatment of Islam,” he is quoted in the article. “My impression is that there is certainly a divergence of approaches and impressions that should not appear in a Regents exam of this caliber.”
The full story follows.
New York Post
“‘Bad Faith’ in Regents Exam – HS Test ‘Slams’ Christianity, Lauds Islam”
Yoav Gonen • Education Reporter • Aug 24, 2010
State testmakers played favorites when quizzing high-schoolers on world religions – giving Islam and Buddhism the kid-gloves treatment while socking it to Christianity, critics say.
Teachers complain that the reading selections from the Regents exam in global history and geography given last week featured glowing passages pertaining to Muslim society but much more critical essay excerpts on the subject of Christianity.
“There should have been a little balance in there,” said one Brooklyn teacher who administered the exam but did not want to be identified.
“To me, this was offensive because it’s just so inappropriate and the timing of it was piss-poor,” he added, referring to the debate over the plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
The most troubling passage came from Daniel Roselle’s “A World History: A Cultural Approach,” observers said.
The passage reads: “Wherever they went, the Moslems [sic] brought with them their love of art, beauty and learning. From about the eighth to the eleventh century, their culture was superior in many ways to that of western Christendom.”
Meanwhile, an excerpt listing the common procedures used by Christian friars to introduce the religion in Latin America stated that “idols, temples and other material evidences of paganism [were] destroyed,” and “Christian buildings [were] often constructed on sites of destroyed native temples” – and built with free Indian labor, to boot.
“I can see why some people might see these questions as skewed,” said Mark MacWilliams, a religious-studies professor at St. Lawrence University in upstate Canton. “Why does the exam seem to have only documents that portray Islam as a religion of peace, civilization and refinement, while it includes documents about Christianity that show it was anything but peaceful in the Spanish conquest of the Americas?” At the same time, MacWilliams criticized the presentation of Hernando Cortes’ conquest of Mexico – which he said portrayed him as a “choirboy” rather than a “conquistador.”
“It’s quite a whitewash,” he said.
Some other religious-studies experts contacted by The Post said they didn’t see what the fuss was all about.
“[The] selections seem about equal in terms of being historically/culturally focused, all relatively positive about the contributions made by each religion as it was introduced into various societies,” wrote Barbara Sproul, an associate professor of religion at Hunter College in Manhattan.
Yet Michael Dobkowski, chair of Religious Studies at Hobart and William Smith
Colleges in upstate Geneva, asserted that it was only Christianity for which both positive and negative aspects were highlighted.
“Some [essays] suggest a kind of Christian triumphalism and the desire to convert the other that is not present in the treatment of Islam,” he said. “My impression is that there is certainly a divergence of approaches and impressions that should not appear in a Regents exam of this caliber.”
State education officials said that every effort had been made to present accurate historical information through the excerpts.
They said the questions had been developed over a four-year period and require students to use their own knowledge of social studies to produce answers.
They added that they weren’t aware of any complaints about the exam.
Additional reporting by Chuck Bennett
The Muslim reading:
* “Wherever they went, the Moslems [sic] brought with them their love of art, beauty and learning. From about the eighth to the eleventh century, their culture was superior in many ways to that of western Christendom.
* “Some of the finest centers of Moslem life were established in Spain. In Cordova, the streets were solidly paved, while at the same time in Paris people waded ankle deep in mud after a rain. Cordovan public lamps lighted roads for as far as ten miles; yet seven hundred years later there was still not a single public lamp in London!”
Source: Daniel Roselle, A World History: A Cultural Approach
The Christian reading:
Common Procedures used by Friars in Converting Areas in Spanish America:
* “Idols, temples and other material evidences of paganism destroyed.” *
“Christian buildings often constructed on sites of destroyed native temples in order to symbolize and emphasize the substitution of one religion by the other.”
* “Indians supplied construction labor without receiving payment.”
* “In a converted community, services and fiestas were regularly held in the church building.”
Source: Based on information from Charles Gibson, Spain in America
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