Parents in Walton County, Ga., are up in arms over the assignments their children in middle school are being asked to complete. The homework delves into religious teachings, but it’s not the so-called separation of church and state that has the parents upset. Rather, it’s the fact that seventh graders are being spoon-fed the Five Pillars of Islam, one of which states that “there is no god but Allah [and] Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
On its face, the decision to teach tenets of Islam, for better or worse, is in keeping with a requirement by the Georgia Department of Education, which dictates that seventh-graders be able to describe the cultures of the Middle East and compare and contrast the prominent religions — Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
“It is important that students understand the differences between each of these religions to help them understand the tensions that exist in the region,” reads the state standards, known as the Georgia Performance Standards.
Fair enough. But where does the standard mandate teaching that “Allah is the [blank] worshiped by Jews & Christians,” where the “correct” completion is “God”?
Kim Embry, a spokeswoman for Walton County Public Schools, defended the decision, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she had received only five phone calls about the lessons from concerned — two from the same number and one from someone in a different state who didn’t have children. Embry’s rationale seems to be one of utility: One or two complaints is not enough to dictate a policy shift. But would she be as dedicated to “the best for the most” if the few who complained were Muslim? Or would she be likely to follow the lead of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who out a “respect for diversity,” closed the city schools for Eid al-Adha and al-Fitr despite the fact that 2.4% of the student population is Muslim.
For those unwilling to accept Embry’s utilitarian argument, she had a backup rationale: “If you’re learning about the Middle East,” she said, “it’s very difficult not to teach about Islam.” That sounds reasonable, but why then are district schools teaching about the religion in the abstract rather than focusing on its role in the political upheaval in that region? Or as Steven Alsup, the father of one child told reporters, “It seemed like half the truth to me, they didn’t talk about the extreme Islamics.”
Indeed if Embrey is so wedded to teaching to the standards, why is she glossing over the standard that advises that students need to understand “that the forces which shape culture have an impact which is relevant to them today.”
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