Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Worship Wednesday: Teaching Islam or about Islam?

In Walton County, Georgia (the Atlanta metro area), a group of parents is up in arms about the teaching of Islam in the public schools.  One parent is quoted as saying that he has a problem with the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims being the "same God".

An erumor that has made the rounds allegedly details that, in a California schools, students "can't say the name of Jesus", but that they can pray to Allah.  Some parents are also bothered by the fact that the "radical" side of Islam, the teaching that encourages some towards terrorism, is--according to them--not covered.

My son, since he is in special education, has not been exposed to the same lessons that the public school students in these articles have been exposed to.  So I can't speak to the particular curriculum that these parents are referring to.  I can only offer my opinion about teaching religion in the public schools.

I think it's important to teach about the major religions of the world:  Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism (and any other major religion I have left out.)  If you're going to understand something--or oppose something--you need to know what it is you are trying to understand or oppose. 

But what I don't completely know is, how do you teach about religion without teaching that religion? 

Teaching belief in a particular religion should, in my opinion, be the province of family, church, or whatever religious institution you belong to.  And if you don't belong to a religious group, or choose to be an atheist, I still think you should know the major tenets of each religion, if only to tell people why you choose not to subscribe to any of them. 

I do believe it's possible to teach facts about a particular religion without teaching belief in that religion.  Perhaps I'm naïve, and perhaps I don't understand what today's teachers face.  I'm the daughter of a teacher, but my father--who was that teacher--died in 1993, and curricula has changed much since then. 

I believe you can say, "Here is what Christians believe," and lay out the major beliefs of Christianity:  belief in one God, belief that Jesus is His son, belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and that He died for our sins as an atonement for them.  It's acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice and repentance--turning away from--our sins that makes one a Christian.  And it's the help of the Holy Spirit that allows Christians to live the life that God wants us to live--to love God first, to love our neighbor as we do ourselves, to do good, to shun evil.  (That's the gospel according to Tina. :-) ) 

Specific to Islam, I do think it's important to know what the five pillars of Islam are.  I think it's important to know about Muhammad, that he was the founder of Islam and that Muslims consider him to be the prophet of Allah.  Just as I would consider it important for people to learn about Jesus, or Buddha, or Hinduism, or Judaism.  (Yes, these are links to Wikipedia articles.  Wikipedia does source most of their material, so I consider it a good starting point for research, although I would not rely on it as my sole source.) 

But how do you do it without showing partiality to one religion or another?  And how do you do it without offending practitioners of that particular religion?

Public school teachers today walk a fine line, as mentioned in one piece I have found about Islam in the public schools.  They are required to teach a particular curriculum, have high test scores, prepare students for college or work--and at the same time, they have to deal with demanding parents and the expectations of principals and boards of education. 

Teachers today also have to deal with what I call the "entitlement" of students.  A Facebook friend of mine, who is a community college professor, has talked about the inability or refusal of his students to follow clear directions in his class.  I've also read about parents who hover over their children even in college, demanding to know why a particular professor gave a specific grade to their child.  College students today are also demanding that they not be exposed to anything that might "trigger" them.  (I understand the importance of guarding your mental health, as in cases of PTSD, but in some cases, it's getting to the point where some students don't want to be exposed to anything that's the least bit "upsetting".) 

So where does this leave the teaching of religion--particularly Islam--in the public schools? 

I think parents have the right and the duty to see their child's curriculum, to know what a child is being taught.  Should they have the right to "opt out" of certain units, as some parents have decided to do with the unit on Islam?  Right now, I believe that if a parent feels very strongly about a particular unit, and has reviewed the lesson and discussed it with the teacher, and still feels the need to opt their student out, then they should have the right to do so. 

What about the "radical" part of Islam?  Well, perhaps an overview of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations is in order.  And, perhaps an overview of the Crusades should be added in order to provide balance.  But, to be honest, I don't know how to cover those subjects without running the risk of offending Muslims or Christians. 

Ultimately, I believe it's up to the parents to instill a belief in a particular religion, while also encouraging their children to think and reason, so that their faith will be their own.  If parents do that, I don't think they need to fear that a public school will "indoctrinate" their children into a particular religion. 

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.


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