WASHINGTON, D.C. – As parents across the country storm school board meetings over a perceived overemphasis on Islam in the curriculum, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. are suggesting ways teachers can focus more on the religion.
A recent blog posted to Home Room, “The official blog of the U.S. Department of Education,” points out that terrorist attacks in Paris and California sparked anti-Muslim incidents in schools and other places.
Muslim students, and those perceived to be Muslim, could be bullied, and the government wants teachers to know how to “create an anti-bias learning environment” by focusing specifically on those students and their faith.
“This means incorporating the experiences, perspective and words of Muslim people into the curriculum through social studies and current events instruction, children’s literature, in order to learn about different cultures,” the blog reads.
“When you teach about world religions, be sure to include Islam. … It’s also important to be aware that some Muslim students may feel relieved and comfortable discussing these issues in class and others may feel nervous, scared or angry to be talking about a topic so close to home.”
The education experts – authors Jinnie Spiegler, director of curriculum with the Anti-Defamation League, and Sarah Sisaye of the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students – suggest that teachers pick controversial current events “ripe with examples of bias and injustice” to highlight anti-Muslim discrimination, and to “discuss what actions (students) could take to make a difference.”
Teachers should also take it upon themselves to spread awareness about “Muslim cultural traditions” by encouraging events like Hijab days, when female students wear the Islamic religious scarf donned by their Muslim classmates. The education experts provided a link to a YouTube video of an event at Vernon Hills High School in December as an example.
Meanwhile, in places like Tennessee, state officials are reviewing curriculum early amid a barrage of complaints about questionable lessons on Islam in middle school history courses. Parents have highlighted lessons that required students to read, write and recite the Islamic conversion prayer; and pointed out the disproportionate amount of time students spend studying Islam versus other religions.
Parents have also questioned the accuracy of texts that suggest Christians and Muslims worship the same God and that Islam is a “religion of peace,” EAGnews reports.
“A lot of the things we hear about Muhammad and a lot of the warfare that was waged is very much sugar coated,” Williamson County School Board member Susan Curlee said at a December town hall.
“My concern is, are we going to be asking students on a test to potentially compromise their faith for the sake of a grade?” she questioned.
Also in December, parents in Greenville, Virginia raised objections to a world geography lesson at Riverheads High School that tasked students with copying the Islamic conversion prayer in Arabic, by hand. The intent, according to the lesson, is to “give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy,” The Shilling Show reports.
The lesson doesn’t appear to explain what the shahada or “Islamic statement of faith” is exactly – “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” – but it does discuss the inspiring beauty of the Koran.
“Since Islam forbids idolatry, mosques are decorated with calligraphy rather than with pictures of humans or animal figures,” the lesson explains. “Verses of the Koran, drawn in flowing Arabic, are bordered by complex geometrical and floral designs. Often colorful, the walls and domes of mosques are inspiring works in themselves.”
And it’s those types of lessons that are sparking a backlash from parents across the country, from lawsuits in Maryland to proposed legislation in Tennessee, centered on what many view as Muslim “indoctrination” through curriculum.
A bias toward Islam is one of the reasons Tyler County Board of Education President Bonnie Henthorn decided to homeschool her children, rather than allow them continue in public schools, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports.
And while the Education Department blog stresses the importance of creating classrooms that are “free from discrimination and harassment based on protected traits – including religion,” it offers no suggestions for teachers struggling to explain to parents why government approved texts and associated lessons focus more on Islam than other religions.