COLUMBIA, Tenn. – Brandee Porterfield doesn’t think her daughter should be assigned to write “Allah is the only god; Mohammad is his prophet” as a school assignment.
“To me, a Christian child should not be made to write that,” Porterfield, mother of a seventh grader at Spring Hill Middle School, told the Columbia Daily News.
She also takes offense to what she said is a three week focus on Islam in her daughter’s history course, especially since the class skipped past a chapter on Christianity – the predominant religion in Tennessee.
“I have a big problem with that,” Porterfield said. “From a historical point of view, that’s a lot of history these kids are missing. Also, for them to spend three weeks on Islam after having skipped Christianity, it seems to me they are making a choice about which religion to discuss.”
The news site posted an image of one student’s assignment about “Shahada” – Islam’s profession of faith – in which the child copied the require phrase, “Allah is the only god Mohammad is his prophet,” but also drew an arrow to it and wrote “!Lie!” The Shahada assignment was based on “creed,” one of the Five Pillars of Islam covered in the unit.
Porterfield said the class skipped Christianity because it’s not required by the state’s standards. Those standards, TN Core, are very similar to the national Common Core standards, though Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill scrapping Common Core in May.
Porterfield said her daughter’s teacher “was not happy about it” but said she must follow the standards.
“She said this will be on (standardized tests). Both her teacher and Principal Shanda Sparrow said students would not have to write the Shahada again,” Porterfield told the Spring Hill Homepage.
“The teacher approached my daughter before class and was very understanding. My daughter told her she would not recite or write the Shahada or anything saying ‘Allah is the only Go.’ The teacher said she wouldn’t have to,” Porterfield said.
On Tuesday the teacher required students to recite the five pillars verbally, including the Shahada, she said.
Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak talked in circles in a statement to parents, and set up a public meeting Sept. 17 for parents to voice their concerns to teachers and administrators.
Mostly, the statement danced around the issue.
“If we are truly going to Grow Maury County together, then we need to openly talk and discuss about what we want to emphasize in our county,” the statement read. “I encourage you to talk with your children, talk with your teachers, and talk with your principals. We are here to help your children be prepared for life. …
“Our teachers work together to make sure that our students are learning what is expected through the Tennessee academic standards. For this last section on the Islamic World this past week, our educators had students complete an assignment that had an emphasis on Islamic Faith. The assignment covered some sensitive topics that are of importance to Islamic religion and caused some confusion around whether we are asking students to believe in or simply understand the religion,” the statement continued, according to the Spring Hill Homepage.
“Marczak said the teachers were covering world history facts of ‘Europe, Southwest Asia, Africa and Asia in the areas of geography, government, culture, economics and religion’ and suggested that parents discuss the matter with teachers at scheduled Sept. 17 parent-teacher conferences,” according to the news site
“It is our job as a public school system to educate our students on world history in order to be ready to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate,” the statement read.
Marczak informed state Rep. Sheila Butt and Maury County Commissioner Donna Cook about parents’ objections, and Cook requested the issue be addressed at the board of education’s Sept. 10 meeting.
Parent Joy Ellis isn’t buying the district’s justifications for the Islam assignments.
“My child was required to write ‘Allah is the only God,’” Ellis said. “This is a seventh grade state standard, and will be on the (state standardized test). Christianity was completely skipped and is not a standard. I didn’t have a problem with the history of Islam being taught, but to go so far as to make my child write the Shahada, is unacceptable.”
Caury County Public Schools middle school supervisor Jan Hanvey told the Columbia Daily Herald lessons about Christianity were not skipped, but are covered later in the semester. The curriculum doesn’t necessarily follow the chapter layout in students’ text books, she said.
Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball said local school districts develop the curriculum, but are required to teach about all major religions in sixth and seventh grades.
Local resident Bob Crigger told the Spring Hill Homepage the district’s prepared statements “skirt the real issue” and “shows a callous attitude.”
“It did not address the main concern of the parents,” Crigger said. “The parents’ concern is not ‘social studies-world history content related to Southwest Asia culture and religion.’ They are concerned that their children are being taught Islam in the classroom.”
Crigger accused district officials of playing “a political shell game” by sending parents with concerns to individual principals, and lobbied for a full town hall meeting with the school board and director of schools to get to settle the matter.
“We want a large venue with open mics on the floor, and proper time for each parent and resident to speak. This way they can know the exact concern we have, instead of hiding our concerns with the politically correct statement they made.”