In recent years, religious extremists based in Saudi Arabia have exerted immense influence on what America’s K-12 schoolchildren learn about Islam and the Middle East. Specifically, these extremists have poured large sums of money into the coffers of organizations that produce K-12 curricula whose ideological leanings are sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalism and, conversely, critical of the United states and Israel.
In a related endeavor, the Saudis have adroitly exploited Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which authorizes federal grants to college and university programs – most notably at Middle East Studies Centers (known as “National Resource Centers,” or NRCs) on certain campuses – that “provide instruction in critical foreign languages and international fields.” Under Title VI, these NRCs are required to engage in public outreach, one facet of which is to design, for America’s K-12 teachers, lesson plans and seminars on Mideast-related topics. The Saudis have aggressively and successfully lobbied the “outreach coordinators” at the NRCs to give their imprimatur to the pro-Islamic teaching materials referenced above, and to authorize those materials for use in elementary and high-school classrooms. As journalist Stanley Kurtz explains, “without ever realizing it, America’s taxpayers end up subsidizing — and providing official federal approval for — K-12 educational materials on the Middle East that have been created under Saudi auspices.”
In 2004, Sandra Stotsky, who had served as senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education (MDOE) from 1999 to 2003, was the first to bring these furtive Saudi/NRC maneuverings to public attention. Specifically, she observed that when the MDOE, in the aftermath of 9/11, had commissioned the outreach program of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies — a federally subsidized Title VI NRC – to create a teacher-training seminar on Islam and the Middle East, the Harvard Center was unwilling to include any kind of instruction that reflected negatively on Islam; e.g., such topics as the nature of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, the lack of democracy in the Middle East, and the plight of women in much of the Muslim world were ignored. Instead, the Harvard Center delivered seminars and lessons that virtually promoted Islam as a religion, whitewashed the life and teachings of the Prophet Mohammad, ignored the violent tradition of Islamic jihad, and sharply criticized America's alleged prejudices against the Muslim world.
Stotsky was unsettled by what she termed the Harvard Center's “distorted” political agenda that was “manipulating” apolitical teachers with a “barely disguised” attempt to “shape…attitudes on specific political issues.” If Harvard’s outreach personnel would have designed similar classroom exercises to teach students about Christianity or Judaism, said Stotsky, “People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU would descend upon them like furies.” In her 2004 book The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America’s History Teachers, Stotsky detailed her observations about the Saudi infiltration of America's schools. She wrote: “Most of these materials have been prepared and/or funded by Islamic sources here and abroad, and are distributed or sold directly to schools or individual teachers, thereby bypassing public scrutiny.” Stotsky went on to note that after 9/11, the Saudi government had sent U.S. schools thousands of packages of educational materials that traced most problems in the Middle East to the doorstep of Western colonialism.
In late 2005 a landmark investigative report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) built on Stotsky's work and revealed the full magnitude of Saudi influence over university outreach programs at NRCs funded under Title VI. As the JTA put it:
“Saudi Arabia is paying to influence the teaching of American public schoolchildren. And the U.S. taxpayer is an unwitting accomplice….Often bypassing school boards and nudging aside approved curricula….These materials praise and sometimes promote Islam, but criticize Judaism and Christianity….Ironically, what gives credibility to…these distorted materials is Title VI of the Higher Education Act….Believing they’re importing the wisdom of places like Harvard or Georgetown, they are actually inviting into their schools whole curricula and syllabuses developed with the support of Riyadh.”