Welcome to the PENS website!
Welcome to the Parents for Excellence in Newton Schools (PENS) website! We hope you will find the site informative and that what you read here inspires you to learn and take action about inaccurate and biased class material, especially material concerning the Middle East, used in public schools in Newton, Massachusetts and other communities.
This bias is not limited to anti-Israel or anti-Jewish falsehoods; students are also presented with inaccurate and prejudicial views of Islam and the Arab people. One handout describes Arab society as "pious but barbaric"; another states that Islam approves of spousal abuse and discriminating against women. While some Islamic authorities may condone such abuse and discrimination, many others do not.
Our goal is to ensure that material presented to students is accurate and non-biased. We do not object to material advocating a particular philosophy or point of view so long as its source and inherent bias is disclosed and students receive information and/or materials on contrary views. Unfortunately, this is not the case at the moment.
Links to objectionable class materials are here.
This website is a work-in-progress and we are continually updating and revising it. As of mid-2021, we are reformatting the site in conjunction with changes to; our host's platform; however, the nature of our concerns has not changed. If you have trouble accessing the content you want, or if you come across formatting errors or broken links, please let us know at NewtonExcellence@gmail.com.
We plan to publish more articles later this year (2021) and find additional support for our objection to inaccurate, anti-Israel, and overtly anti-semitic material used in high school history classes.
Success, But More to Accomplish
Some material, including a grossly inaccurate Saudi-funded text called the Arab World Studies Notebook and a (now defunct) hate-filled website at www.Flashpoints.info were removed from Newton schools in 2012 and 2012 due to pressure from PENS and others.
The Newton Public Schools (NPS) also agreed to 'white out' a statement in the book A Muslim Primer claiming that the Catholic church was "reconsidering polygamy as a Christian option". Newton North High School History Chair Jonathan Bassett acknowledged that the statement "might be misleading".
However, little else has been done since then. Inaccurate and biased material, including anti-Israel and arguably anti-semitic material as well as the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim material described above, remains in use. This material is not used as a basis for discussion or to compare different points of view, but is presented as fact.
Although both Superintendent Fleishman and Newton Mayor Ruth Fuller promised in 2017 to place class materials online, suspend teaching certain subjects until class material could be reviewed, and review materials for inaccuracy and bias, these promises have not been fulfilled. None of the material is online, and the NPS will still not allow parents (or anyone else) to view materials in advance; material can be viewed only after it is distributed. Therefore, parents have no way of knowing what topics will be covered or what materials a class will use until after it has been taught.
There is no way to determine whether a class uses neutral and accurate material, or whether the material (and often the corresponding political views of the teacher, which are usually presented as factual) are so biased that a parent, or the student herself, would prefer an alternate way to fulfill the school's academic requirements. Massachusetts parents may home-school or use another method of reviewing content for one or more classes as they see fit; in other words, a student may take the majority of his or her classes at school, while using an alternative curriculum for the other one or two classes. At this time, however, the NPS will not allow parents to learn anything about what will be taught over the course of the year; they are not permitted to even see a course outline. The only way parents can discover what is being taught is to either rely on rumor or innuend0 or to make a formal, written public records request to the school's "Keeper of Records" for a copy of the prior year's materials, for which the NPS charges $500.00 or more, even if the requestor has a child in the relevant class.
That amount is difficult enough for many parents to produce; multiply it by two or more students and one or two classes for each child, and it becomes virtually impossible for a majority of families to find out anything at all about the curriculum in their children's classes. The Massachusetts Public Records Office encourages schools to provide this material at no charge, a request which the NPS prefers to ignore. In addition, as most teachers presumably organize and keep material in digital form instead of, or in addition to, manila folders and file cabinets, the process of obtaining the requested material should take no more than a few minutes - say, half an hour or so at most. The breakdown provided by the NPS of the $500.00-plus charge, however, typically includes up to 2 hours of teacher time plus copying costs. This is because the NPS insists on responding to public record requests with paper records, even if the request itself asks for digital files.
The result is that instead of accessing their child's curriculum freely and easily as with many other Massachusetts high schools, parents in Newton are derided and forced to pay large sums of money for taking an interest in their children's education. Why does the NPS force parents into taking an adversarial stance for requesting copies of the curriculum while other local school systems, which provide such material online and free of charge, do not? And why don't they want to provide class material? The NPS' attitude and actions towards parents and other members of the community certainly does not engender trust. Why would they do this?
Trust in the school system by parents and community members continues to erode with the NPS' failure to fulfill its promises to them. Although the NPS admitted in 2017 that the Middle East curriculum "should be changed"; its representation to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that the teaching of Middle East history was suspended in 2015 pending a review of class material was undeniably false. Not only have World History and other classes continued to teach Middle East history, the material used continues to include the same biased and overtly anti-Israel, anti-semitic, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim texts the NPS promised to review in 2017. To our knowledge there has been no review of class materials; if there has been, its findings have not been implemented or made public. (2021 update: not surprisingly, there has no change in the Middle East curriculum to date, nor has the NPS' promise that material would be reviewed would be honored).
If anything, the materials are even worse than they were several years ago due to a new class by Newton North teacher David Bedar titled "The Middle East, Asia, and Latin America". Course material includes maps taken directly from the website of the Palestinian National Council (the policy-making branch of the Palestinian Liberation Organization). None of the PLO's conclusions about what the maps purportedly show are countered, even though there are many other sources that do so. Even worse, students are not told the source of the PLO material, which is presented as factual.
Even prior to 2015, NPS officials refused to read published reports about the curriculum and specific items of material, and wrongly (and illegally) told parents they were not allowed to speak with teachers or other administrators about their concerns.
To date, administrators continue to proudly declare that they will not read, much less taken action on, the substantial and growing body of criticism (including comprehensive reports by Verity Educate and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and articles by CAMERA, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, StandWithUs, and other organizations. Far from reviewing class material and removing unsuitable material, the NPS has conducted no review of class material. As a result, material with grossly inaccurate and overtly biased claims remain in use. Nor has the ADL, to which the promise to review materials was made, made any attempt to hold the NPS to its that promise.
Residents expressed their concerns about the NPS' failure to act in contentious School Committee meetings in May and June, 2018, following similar meetings in 2016 and 2011. None of the several meetings with school officials or follow-up emails, telephone calls, or provision of analyses and reports to the NPS has made any difference, and none of the many promises by the NPS or the Mayor's office have been kept.
We need your help to overcome the NPS' disregard for educational accuracy and its tolerance of inaccurate and overtly biased material, including material that fails to meet the most basic educational standards. While some of this material (the Arab World Studies Notebook and Flashpoints) has been removed from use, most remains.
Other organizations including the Fordham Foundation for Educational Excellence, Jewish Telegraph Agency, The Textbook League, and American Jewish Committee have issued reports on specific items of material used in Newton classrooms. These findings have been published in newspapers and magazines including the Washington Times, Metrowest News, Times of Israel, Baltimore Reporter, and JointMedia News Service.
Please email or call Superintendent David Fleishman, the School Committee, and Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and tell them that you want the History Department Chairs of both high schools to review the Verity Educate Report, CAMERA articles, and other reviews and stop the use of inaccurate, deceptively edited, and biased material. Students tell us that with rare exceptions, this material is NOT used to "illustrate bias" or for discussion purposes but as purported "fact".
Contact information is here. A 'bcc' to NewtonExcellence@gmail.org would be appreciated.
We also need people to help spread the word about biased, inaccurate, and anti-Israel/anti-semitic class material used in high schools in Newton, MA and throughout the nation. Most parents are not aware that their children are learning from inadequate or objectionable sources, and most students do not have the knowledge or awareness to challenge their teacher's choice of material. Even if you only have a couple of hours for a one-time project, we can use your help. Write to us at NewtonExcellence@gmail.com.