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Home --> Religion --> School for Scandal

School for Scandal

Claim:   Seventh graders in California are subjected to an intense three-week course in Islam in which they are required to pray to Allah and memorize Koran verses.

Status:   Not quite.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]

Course has 7th-graders memorizing Koran verses, praying to Allah In the wake of Sept. 11, an increasing number of California public school students must attend an intensive three-week course on Islam, reports ASSIST News Service.

The course mandates that seventh-graders learn the tenets of Islam, study the important figures of the faith, wear a robe, adopt a Muslim name and stage their own jihad. Adding to this apparent hypocrisy, reports ANS, students must memorize many verses in the Koran, are taught to pray "in the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful" and are instructed to chant, "Praise to Allah, Lord of Creation."

"We could never teach Christianity like this," one outraged parent told ANS. Elizabeth Christina Lemings, a teacher in the Byron, Calif., Union School District, was unaware of the course until her seventh-grade son brought home the handouts. Obtained by ANS, the handouts include a history of Islam and the life of Muhammad, its founder. There are 25 Islamic terms that must be memorized, six Islamic (Arabic) phrases, 20 Islamic proverbs to learn along with the Five Pillars of Faith and 10 key Islamic prophets and disciples to be studied.

(The rest of the e-mailed article can be found here.)

Origins:   Sometimes a clear yes or no answer is impossible to provide, given the quality of the information available and the complexity of the underlying issues. And this is one of those times.

The World Net Daily article quoted above was drawn from information provided by Assist Ministries in its January 9, 2002 article "Public Schools Embrace Islam." What World Net Daily refers to as "ASSIST News Service" is the public relations arm of Assist Ministries — despite the use of the term "news service," ANS should not be mistaken for one of the legitimate wire services, such as Associated Press or Reuters. The contents of its article should thus be taken with a large grain of salt.

Even so, there is something to what it said. Granted, that "something" is distorted and overstated, but the core element is present.

As part of their social studies curriculum, Grade 7 pupils throughout California do study ancient Muslim cultures and the impact of Islam on world history, but only as one of eleven units that comprise that year's social studies course, not as a special indoctrination
into a particular religion as the ASN article presents it. The intent is to teach the position of this belief system in history, not the religion itself — the dividing line is not always clearly drawn, however, not even in the "standards" handed down by the State of California to its districts and individual schools. ("Standards" are education jargon for what the state insists be taught in a particular grade year in a particular area of study.)

According to California's Grade 7 social studies standard for this particular unit: "Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages." In and of itself that would be fine, but the breakdown of how that goal is to be achieved opens the door to potential blurring. One item from the 6-point list on how that standard is to be reached is especially troubling: "Trace the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of Muhammad, including Islamic teachings on the connection with Judaism and Christianity."

(You can view for yourself California's Grade Seven History-Social Science Content Standards.)

Many parents would be up in arms if schoolkids were learning about the life and teachings of Jesus in public school classrooms, even if the information were presented only as background for a unit on the impact of Christianity on world history. That it's a different religion on the hot seat shouldn't matter — it's a "separation of church and state" issue, specifically, that religion must not be taught in schools. Whether the belief system is Islam or Christianity, the core issue doesn't change.

For the most part, the California standards were relatively clear on the intent of the unit (which was to teach about a people central to the course of world history). Ambiguity was certainly present in whether the religion or the people influenced by it would be the subject of all parts of this unit, and it was here that the trip wire was set for unwary educators.

How each school and district chose to meet the California-mandated standards was up to them, leaving the door open to any number of ways of presenting the same material. The Excelsior School in Byron chose a more unusual mode of imparting this knowledge to those schooled there, and its Grade 7 students do indeed participate in dress-up, role-playing, and simulation games as part of the Islamic history unit. The school district says such activities are common teaching practices and appears unconcerned that student-involvement techniques successfully used in other areas of study might be out of place in units where maintaining separation of church and state might be at issue.

The Grade 7 textbook central to the controversy, Across the Centuries, is a broad-based social studies textbook which examines the impact of a variety of cultures on events as they unfolded over the course of two thousand years. A look at the list of Houghton-Mifflin's "lessons at a glance" for this work shows that it's anything but a "how to" for the Muslim religion — the book provides information about a number of cultures, including Japanese, Chinese, European, African, South American, and Muslim. More than anything else, it's an overview of world history meant to acquaint 7th graders with the concept of other lands and cultures through exposure to the timeline of events from Roman days until now and the variety of peoples that took part in those events.

Does it present Muslims in a positive light and Christians in a negative one? Some argue that it does — by happenstance or otherwise, the information about Islam's place in world history is presented within the context of that belief system's glory days of scholarship and expansion of trade, while the information about Christianity generally only appears against a backdrop of Christians harming their neighbors and attempting to quash science.

The ambiguity of the standard as well as the possible cant of the textbook have contributed to the current controversy. Peggy Green, Superintendent of the Byron Union School District, said in a press statement issued on 11 January 11 2002:
We are sorry for the misinformation that has been picked up by the media and the distress it has caused to parents and members of the public. The Byron School District is not 'teaching religion'; we are teaching the California state-mandated standards with state adopted textbooks. The public school system was established to educate all children. In light of the events of this past year, it is imperative that our instruction includes an understanding of and insight into all cultures and a tolerance for the diversity found in the world. As such, public schools do not "indoctrinate" children on various religions, but they do expose them to the belief systems that have impacted the formation of our world.
The flaw in that statement should by now be evident: If the belief system had been Christianity rather than Islam, there'd have been hell to pay.

We think the Byron School District erred badly on the side of liberalism in how it chose to teach this segment and that it displayed an appalling lack of sensitivity to the fears that even more will be drawn to the fundamentalist Islamic faiths that spawned the terrorist attacks on America if Islam is made attractive enough, but that's a judgment call, not a matter of fact. What can be argued is whether the line separating teaching about a religion and teaching the religion itself was blurred by how the district chose to fulfill the Islamic history element of the Grade 7 social studies curriculum. Whether that line was actually crossed remains a matter of debate (the district is not at this time addressing charges that it had students memorize Koran verses), but it must be said if the shoe were on the other foot — had the portions of world history centering on the spread of Christianity been taught in similar manner — the outcry would have been thunderous.

Also erring in this drama, however, was Assist Ministries, which used this incident as a platform for publicizing its agenda. World Net Daily left out many of the more extreme statements from the Assist Ministries press release, ones that would have made the intent of the ANS piece clear from the beginning:
The faulty textbook, Across the Centuries, has more than its share of deceit. It is stated as fact that Islam, Judaism and Christianity share in common the belief in one god. This is a half-truth, which is the worst kind of lie. Christianity and Judaism worship one God, the God of Abraham. Islam worships one god named Allah. This hook is misleading on the part of Houghton-Mifflin. The publisher apparently is attempting to legitimize Islam.
And . . .
So why would the American Public School System and the politicians want to further the Islamic faith, push to have it become the One World Religion and nix Christianity?

Simple. Christians cannot be enslaved. Islam, an oppressive religion of control, cruelty and fear does enslave, which can keep people subdued. This is precisely what the future leaders of the One World Order want to achieve. And the misinformed, make nice, politically correct crowd seem eager to help them accomplish it.

But the greatest driving factor in all of this is money. There are the profiteers and politicians who stand to grow in unspeakable wealth and power by cooperating with the Arabs and finding favor by helping them and their pagan religion take control. They have no compunction in selling us out, and our freedom, to accomplish their goals. These greedy, self-serving investors stand salivating on both sides of the oil pump.
Assist Ministries is addressing the wrong issue: This controversy shouldn't be about Islam vs. Christianity or "our religion" vs. "their religion," but rather about the appropriateness of any religious teachings in public schools. Their hand-wringing over the evils of Islam, dark hints about conspiracies among politicians and profiteers to appease oil-rich Arabs, and presentation of Christianity as the one true religion miss the point.

Reporter Nich Schou of the OC Weekly made a telling statement in October 2001: "Since Sept. 11, there have been two kinds of Americans: those who think the U.S. is out of touch with the rest of the world, and those who think the rest of the world can take a hike." It's this split which lies at the heart of the subject at hand: Some want American students exposed to other cultures and ways of thinking so as to better prepare them for dealing with the world at large, and others would rather American students learn only about matters pertaining to the USA and view the teaching of anything else as an attempt to indoctrinate impressionable children.

Is it possible to teach about a people and their place in history without also teaching the belief system that influenced them? We don't know. But we do know every effort has to be made in that direction if the one is to be attempted.

Barbara "the churchmouse that roared" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 July 2007

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  Sources Sources:
    Green, Peggy.   "Press Release."
    Byron Union School District.   11 January 2002.

    Miles, Austin.   "Public Schools Embrace Islam."
    ASSIST News Services.   9 January 2002.

    Schou, Nick.   "Pulling His Cheney."
    OC Weekly.   26 October 2001   (p. 14).

    Sorokin, Ellen.   "Islam Course at Middle Schools in Cal. Angers Parents."
    The Washington Times.   16 January 2001   (p. A1).