Historically inaccurate and biased social studies textbooks will likely end up in high school classrooms nationwide after they were adopted by the Texas State Board of Education in 2014. That’s the opinion of Emile Lester, associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington, an expert in church and state issues,
Dr. Lester, who reviewed the proposed textbooks at the request of a Texas watchdog agency, testified before the Texas Board of Education that the high school textbooks contained widespread errors and prejudices--including information that weakens the separation of church and state, minimizes how violence was used to spread Christianity and gives biased portrayals of Muslims and Islam. Despite his testimony, the Texas State Board of Education adopted the textbooks, a decision that could have national impact. Since Texas is a large purchaser of textbooks, these books will likely wind up in schools across the nation.
In other research Dr. Lester found that high school students who take a course in world religions are more tolerant of those who worship differently. A 2006 study, which he co-authored, considered the effects of the unique Modesto, Calif., public school requirement that all high school students take an extended course on world religions. His report, published by the First Amendment Center, finds support that this knowledge breeds support for the rights of others, provides a fuller appreciation for shared moral values among world religions, and does not encourage a change in the students’ own religious convictions. His findings received the attention of The New York Times, C-SPAN and USA Today, National Public Radio, and Voice of America.
Author of "Teaching About Religions: A Democratic Approach for Public Schools," Dr. Lester served on the Newseum panel, “Does GOD Make a Difference? Taking religion seriously in schools and universities” and was a featured panelist at the “God in American National Symposium on Religious Literary” hosted by PBS and the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life. He also participated in a national symposium titled “Public Schools, Religion, and the First Amendment” in New York to promote conversation on how public schools, religion, and the First Amendment intersect.
Areas of Expertise (5)
University of Virginia: Ph.D., Government and Foreign Affairs 2000
London School of Economics: M.Sc., Political Theory 1996
George Washington University: B.A., Government 1995
- Religion and Education (Journal) : Editorial Board
Media Appearances (5)
Take politics out of Texas classrooms
Caller Times online
The ongoing textbook wars have embarrassed Texas for years.
Ideology Tops Facts in Texas History Curriculum, Experts Say
U.S. News & World Report online
"The quibble over wording here could not be more misleading," said Emile Lester, a report co-author and political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.
UMW Political Science Professor Featured on With Good Reason
University of Mary Washington online
University of Mary Washington Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Emile Lester will be featured on the With Good Reason public radio program, March 28 to April 3. The show, “Secrecy in the ‘Sunshine Era,’” will include a segment regarding new history textbooks approved by the Board of Education in Texas that a commission of experts have claimed were pushing a specific ideology...
Textbook proposed for Texas schools opens can of worms
The Dallas Morning News online
Students in Texas public schools could soon be learning that democracy and our nation’s government are based on the ideas of biblical figures like Moses and King Solomon. That’s because the State Board of Education is set to adopt new textbooks that teach this peculiar distortion of American history...
Creationism is just the start: How right-wing Christians are warping America's schools
Emile Lester, a political science associate professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, was one of the reviewers. The State Board of Education said “these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars,” he writes in his report...
After cultural and religious controversy in Modesto, Calif., community leaders attempted to increase tolerance and respect by requiring a unique world religions course
for high school students. The first large-n empirical study of the effect of teaching about ...
Despite a growing consensus among scholars and activists about the importance of religion,
proposals for teaching about it have often been a source of division rather than unity in
American public school districts. Faced with familiar cultural conflicts, Modesto, California, ...
If we value religious tolerance and autonomy, we must breach the silence about
religion in public schools, and add a comparative religious education to the compulsory
curriculum at the high school level. This education would expose students to a variety of ...
Many political scientists treat tolerance as a single, one-
dimensional attitude and overlook that different areas of people's lives require different forms
of tolerance. Their work assumes that religion is not essentially different from other ...
Political and comprehensive liberals are both pessimistic about finding a
satisfactory way to resolve the debate over whether and how to expose students in public
schools to religion. An examination of John Tomasi's Liberalism beyond Justice and ...
Back to school. Back to reading, writing, arithmetic and religion.
If learning about evolution is essential for understanding contemporary science, if learning about sex is essential for adolescent health, is learning about religion any less essential for understanding a world of powerful and often literally explosive religious allegiances?
Texas students may soon be reading in their history textbooks that the American system of democracy was inspired by Moses, segregated schools weren’t all that bad and taxes imposed for programs like Social Security haven’t measurably improved society.