Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Snopes.com info on California 7th grade unit on Islam

FYI: The following URL is the Snopes.com response to the claim in 2001 that, “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.” (Click Content Standards to view California's Grade Seven History-Social Science content standards for 2001, which are the same in 2006.)


The following are some quotes from the Snopes.com response:

"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,... 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.

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."

Many parents would be up in arms if school kids 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…

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 …
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:
“… 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.

… 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...

... 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... "


Andrew Pass said...

I'm concerned that too few people recognize the importance of studying religion in school. There is a great difference between studying a religion and being encouraged to practice the religion. Major religions have been incredibly important to the scope of world history. If we don't understand religion, we don't understand history. I went to an Orthodox Jewish Day School where we studied about Islam, Christianity and Eastern religions. Sadly I knew more about Christianity than some of my Christian friends. I'll never forget explaining the relationship between Good Friday and Easter to one of my friends. My friend should have learned about these days in a public school simply as a matter of common knowlege.

Andy Pass

Janine Cate said...

Good point.

Anonymous said...

6th grade CA state standards:

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).

From a California Teacher

dissentiscool said...

I have to say that all of this is completely overblown. As a California World History teacher, I can tell you that I teach about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. These religions are not taught to endorse a particular religion. Look, if you know anything about history, then you would understand that world history is inseparable from religion. You cannot talk about the Roman empire or the Ottoman empire or about the Reformation or about the Age of Enlightenment without teaching about the religions associated with these periods. It simply cannot be done (unless you are not teaching world history correctly, in which case you are doing a disservice). Furthermore, it is important to teach these religions in order to promote tolerance. The one reason there is so much hatred toward any religious group has to do with a lack of understanding. Where there is ignorance, there is fear. Where there is fear, there is violence. So, take a deep breath and relax. I am a Christian. I am not trying to shove Islam down the students' throats. Nor am I trying to shove Christianity or Judaism down the students' throats. What you are promoting on this site are conspiracy theories designed to upset ignorant people. There is no secret plan to convert California students to Islam. The plan is to educate students, which I know is a scary thought for some people.

Henry Cate said...

I'm not sure you really read the post. You have snarky and condescending comments like:

"...if you know anything about history..."

"What you are promoting on this site are conspiracy theories designed to upset ignorant people."

"The plan is to educate students, which I know is a scary thought for some people."

But all this post is is a link to Snopes with some commentary. If you had really read posts on this blog (not a site) you would know we are not big on conspiracy theories. We may report on the news but we're not pushing "conspiracy theories designed to upset ignorant people."

dissentiscool said...

Agreed. I miss read the post, which is my fault. I skimmed the blog and read most of what was in black. Being a California public school teacher, I find these politically motivated, manufactured controversies infuriating.

I would also add that you had a "snarky" tone, as well. I realize this is a blog: I have one myself. In my frenzy of typing I mislabeled your blog. Tone is hard to convey. Condescending? Perhaps. Snarky? I've been accused of that in the past. But the tone I was going for was disdain, as such hateful theories deserve.

I apologize for my misreading of your blog post. The sentiments contained in my previous post would best be directed at those who promote anti-Islamic rhetoric.