Wednesday, November 19, 2014

California parents complain about Islam being taught in school... but is their complaint valid?

I came across this article in Truth Revolt the other day, and it immediately caught my interest, as it involves one of the very subjects and grade levels I am teaching this year.

First, the essence of the article:
The parents of a Manhattan Beach, California middle schooler are upset that their son is being taught the faith of Islam in school, according to a KTLA 5 report. "The audacity of this school to think they can sit these children down and teach them whatever religion they please -- it's preposterous," the unidentified father said. "This is illegal, basically. You can't teach religion in schools anymore, but apparently, in this particular school at least, that's not the case." 
The mother pointed to a section that asked the student to write down Islam's "Declaration of Faith" on the provided lines. She wondered if that would be required if the faith were Christianity. "And if it ended with the declaration of faith, 'Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior,' that's the equivalent," she said. The father added, "Can you imagine the outcry all over this country if children were bringing home paperwork that asked them to write down John 3:16, or asked them to write down The 10 Commandments?" 
The report states that the parents met with the principal, but because nothing has changed, they have pulled their son from the class. KTLA said the school did not respond to a statement request.
So, let's break this all down.

I teach 7th graders at a Sacramento middle school.  Sacramento and Manhattan Beach are both in the late, great state of California.  As such, both schools - and every other middle school in California - follow the very same state content standards.  For 7th graders everywhere in California, one of those standards is the following:
7.2 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages.
  1. Identify the physical features and describe the climate of the Arabian peninsula, its relationship to surrounding bodies of land and water, and nomadic and sedentary ways of life.
  2. Trace the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of Muhammad, including Islamic teachings on the connection with Judaism and Christianity.
  3. Explain the significance of the Qur'an and the Sunnah as the primary sources of Islamic beliefs, practice, and law, and their influence in Muslims' daily life.
  4. Discuss the expansion of Muslim rule through military conquests and treaties, emphasizing the cultural blending within Muslim civilization and the spread and acceptance of Islam and the Arabic language.
  5. Describe the growth of cities and the establishment of trade routes among Asia, Africa, and Europe, the products and inventions that traveled along these routes (e.g., spices, textiles, paper, steel, new crops), and the role of merchants in Arab society.
  6. Understand the intellectual exchanges among Muslim scholars of Eurasia and Africa and the contributions Muslim scholars made to later civilizations in the areas of science, geography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, art, and literature.
Again, these standards are taught to 7th graders in every California middle school - not just the "particular school" in questions.  You can pull your son from that particular class all you want; the same standard will be waiting for him in the other 7th grade history teachers' classrooms down the hall.
As for Christianity, it is also taught in California's middle and elementary schools.  It just happens to be in the standards for a different grade level - along with Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Shintoism.  All of the those religions are to be found in the California History Standards for 6th grade.  The standards for Christianity fall under the main standard for the Roman Empire:
6.7 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures during the development of Rome.
6.Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament, and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs (e.g., belief in the Trinity, resurrection, salvation). 
7.Describe the circumstances that led to the spread of Christianity in Europe and other Roman territories. 
You will notice that the standard calls for the teacher to teach the students not only about the life of Jesus, but His teachings as well.  The mother mentions in article about how aghast people would be if the Ten Commandments were taught.  Well, check out the 6th grade standard for Judaism:

6.3 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the Ancient Hebrews.
  1. Describe the origins and significance of Judaism as the first monotheistic religion based on the concept of one God who sets down moral laws for humanity.
  2. Identify the sources of the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism (the Hebrew Bible, the Commentaries): belief in God, observance of law, practice of the concepts of righteousness and justice, and importance of study; and describe how the ideas of the Hebrew traditions are reflected in the moral and ethical traditions of Western civilization.
  3. Explain the significance of Abraham, Moses, Naomi, Ruth, David, and Yohanan ben Zaccai in the development of the Jewish religion.
  4. Discuss the locations of the settlements and movements of Hebrew peoples, including the Exodus and their movement to and from Egypt, and outline the significance of the Exodus to the Jewish and other people.
  5. Discuss how Judaism survived and developed despite the continuing dispersion of much of the Jewish population from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel after the destruction of the second Temple in A.D. 70. 
Guess what folks?  You can't teach about the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism, and their belief in God, and observance of law without teaching them the Ten Commandments.

Now here is where I share some concerns with these parents and others like them.  

First, there is a standard dedicated solely to Islam, and it is a lengthy one.  There is no standard exclusively dedicated to Christianity.  Instead, Christianity only gets a couple of sub-standards that are shoehorned into the main standard for the Roman Republic and early Empire.  On the other hand, the 7th grade standard for Medieval Europe mentions Christianity extensively, and there is an entire standard (7.8), dedicated to the Protestant Reformation, where the teachings of the Catholic Church and how they differ from Protestant belief are discussed in extensive detail.

Second, the standard for Islam is usually addressed with the first couple chapters of any 7th grade history textbook, thereby guaranteeing that it will be taught.  Conversely, Christianity is mentioned in regards to the early Roman Empire, which is almost always found at the end of a 6th grade history textbook.  Seriously, how often did you make it to the end of the textbook before the end of the school year when you were a kid?

Third, I am concerned not so much with what is taught about Islam in many California schools, but how it is taught - especially in comparison to Christianity.  If you read what our textbooks say about Islam, you get a sense of tiptoeing and glass and eggshells crunching.  The Islamic invasions of 7th and 8th Century Persia, Byzantine Empire, and Western Europe are mentioned, but the authors of said textbooks are always quick to point out how tolerant Muslim rulers were toward the subjugated people of other faiths, which is a bunch of bullshit.  Also, the word Jihad is always defined as "striving" or a "struggle" to be a good Muslim.  Also bullshit.  Conversely, the same textbooks are only too quick and willing to point out Christian excesses during the Inquisition, and just flat out lie about the motivations of the Christians during the Crusades.  Yes, there were bad things supposedly done in the name of Christianity during the Crusades, but the Crusades were a defensive response to the rising threat of Islam, not an offensive campaign meant to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Some schools and individual teachers have also gone way too far in their efforts to teach their students about Islamic doctrine, such as having students visit a mosque and be shown how to pray toward Mecca (which happened in Massachusetts), or having students do a project where they role play as Muslims engaging in a pilgrimage on the way to Mecca.  I have trouble imagining a teacher having her 6th graders role play Jesus's Disciples on the way to Jerusalem. 

The bottom line is that if parents in California are going to get upset about their 7th grade children learning about Islam, they need to understand that in 6th grade, their children were exposed to crapload of other world religions to include Christianity and Judaism, along with all those eastern religions as well.  They also need to understand that it is perfectly acceptable to learn about religion in history class.  Stop saying, "I thought students couldn't learn religion in school!"  They can.  How in the hell do you properly learn about the history of the world without understanding the motivations for why so many people did what they did?  Religion kind of played a big role in those motivations, dontcha think?  

1 comment:

James McNulty said...

Well thought out observation.