Course in Islam angers parents: California middle school has students role-playing and dressing as Muslims – Education

Course in Islam angers parents: California middle school has students role-playing and dressing as Muslims – Education – Brief Article

Ellen Sorokin

A course about Islam taught at California public middle schools has come under fire after parents have learned that students wear Muslim robes, adopt Islamic names and stage make-believe pilgrimages to Mecca to learn about the faith. In one case, students in San Luis Obispo pretended to be warriors fighting for Islam, an activity that, critics argue, does not belong in a public-school classroom. “We could never teach Christianity like this,” says one parent who did not want to be identified because her son is a student at one of the schools.

As a result, one parent has filed a complaint against the San Luis 0bispo School District, contending that the schools do not give as much instruction time when it comes to other religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. “A lot of it is a desire to overly compensate in the name of political correctness and sensitivity” says Brad Dacus, chief counsel with the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal-defense organization representing the parents. “It’s outrageous”

The course on Islam is one of 11 units of a social-studies class called World History and Geography: Medieval and Early Modern Times, taught all over California. The class is included in the state’s curriculum standards, approved in 1998. The standards outline which subjects should be taught at specific grade levels so schools can keep track of the topics included in tests. They do not tell teachers how to teach the classes. Rather, teachers are encouraged to develop the lesson plans themselves, says spokesman Doug Stone of the California Board of Education.

Byron Union School District near Oakland also has come under fire for the way it taught the three-week course on Islam. There, about 125 seventh-graders dressed up in Muslim robes, studied Islamic proverbs and read verses from the Koran, according to course-description handouts the school sent home to parents. The students also had to pick a Muslim name out of a list of 30, learn how to write six Islamic phrases in Arabic, and organize a make-believe journey, or hajj, to Mecca.

“From the beginning, you and your classmates will become Muslims” the handout reads. “Dressing as a Muslim and trying to be involved will increase your learning and enjoyment.”

Peggy Green, superintendent of the Byron Union School District, stresses that her schools are only teaching about Islam, not promoting the faith. Students were given the option to dress up as a Muslim for extra credit.

“We are not teaching religion” Green explains. “We are teaching the California state-mandated standards with state-adopted textbooks. Dressing up in costume, role-playing and simulation games are all used to stimulate class discussion and are common teaching practices used in other subjects as well. There’s nothing to be upset about.” She adds that her schools teach about all religions in the same way.

Nevertheless, critics have expressed outrage at the class. “I don’t think seventh-graders should be reading the Koran” says Phyllis Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum, who described the methods as outrageous. “What they should be learning is the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence. They shouldn’t be playing games with another religion. It’s a way of entertaining the students, not teaching them”

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, agrees. If students were to dress up as Pilgrims and “give thanks to the Almighty” civil-rights activists would be “apoplectic” he says.

“This reflects a terrible double standard” he says. ‘Anything that smacks of Christianity is systematically excluded in the classroom, but everything else like Wicca to Islam is welcomed. This case exhibits all the more that Christians find themselves in a disfavored class of religion while others are in a preferred position. That’s unfortunate.”

Promoting any religion in a public school violates state code, notes Roger Wolfertz, deputy general counsel for the California Department of Education.”


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