Mandated Teaching of Islam in California Public Schools–Truth! & Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
The message says “Public Schools Embrace Islam – A Shocker.” It focuses on seventh graders in Byron, California, and says that although students in a growing number of public schools cannot wear crosses or utter the name of Jesus, they are being required to attend an intensive three-week course on Islam including mandated study of the tenets of Islam, the important people of Islam, wearing of a robe, adopting a Moslem name, and staging their own Jihad. It says that the California-required course uses a textbook that says a lot more about Islam than about Christianity and quotes a teacher who says she couldn’t teach Christianity like that and can’t even say the name of Jesus in the classroom, but the seventh graders are learning how to pray to Allah.
This eRumor has been explosive, both in terms of how quickly it grew in circulation on the Internet and the reaction it prompted.
It is based on an article written for the ASSIST News Service by Austin Miles, who is described as a chaplain, author, historian, speaker, educator, and veteran master of ceremonies at various events around the country (he was a circus ringmaster).
Highlighting concerns over activities in a class about Islam in Excelsior Middle School, the article suggests that the State of California has “embraced Islam,” that a course on Islam has been “stealthily” slipped into the seventh grade statewide, that the course is mandated as are activities such as wearing Islamic garb, adopting a Moslem name, and stating their own Jihad. The article also leaves the impression that students and teachers are not allowed to utter the name of Jesus in a classroom and that students cannot wear crosses.
Miles interviewed Christina Lemings, a parent of a seventh grader who is also a seventh grade teacher in the Byron Union School District in Contra Costa County, in Northern California. She said that she did not know what was being taught in the class on Islam until her son brought home a flyer from the Excelsior School about it. She told Miles, “they teach Islam as the true religion, and students are taught about Islam and to pray to Allah.” The article says she has quickly learned that in public school, God and Christianity are out (forbidden) but that Islam is in.
At question is what actually happened in the classes about Islam at Excelsior school and to what extent, as the article suggests, are these activities mandated statewide?
If the children were taught to pray to Allah or to participate in any other Islamic devotional activities, that is an outrage deserving of the protest of parents and other concerned Californians.
Lemings says there was prayer to Allah in the class. Other news reports have said that the children were required to pray “in the name of Allah the Compassionate the Merciful” and to stage their own Jihad. Nancie Castro, the principle at the middle school, denies the children were taught to pray or that any of the children was required to participate in the cultural activities of wearing Middle-Eastern clothing or choosing a Moslem name. She told the Contra Costa Times that wearing the clothing was something offered for extra credit. The American Center for Law and Justice in Virginia has written a letter to the Byron School district demanding that parents be given the chance to choose whether their children participate in the required course on Islam. Castro says that when the flyers about the course were sent to parents, three families asked that their children be exempted from that particular portion of the studies and they were given alternate assignments.
Peggy Green, the Superintendent of the Byron Union School district says that the school is merely reflecting the California guidelines for seventh grade and that the students are learning about Islam in the same way that they learn about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and other major religions. She says that individual teachers will augment the curriculum with various activities and games, including dressing-up and role playing, in order to stimulate class discussion. Green did not specifically say whether there had been prayers to Allah or any other devotional activities encouraged by the teacher at Byron. Green says she and her staff have been fielding calls and other messages to the school about the controversy, many of which have been malignant and threatening.
Lemings, the teacher interviewed by Miles, says she has been troubled by the nature and content of some of the complaints to the school and issued a statement on January 15 saying, “Our schools have wonderful people teaching our children who are walking a fine line trying to comply with their state’s regulations, a vague understanding of the separation of church and state and the possibility of a lawsuit on any given day.” She said she heard some of the recorded messages directed at her principal and school and was ashamed of them and reminded people that the protest was against decisions at the state level and that her concern was over the way the textbook had handled these issues.
Educators with whom TruthOrFiction.com has spoken, however, say that they feel that the article sensationalized the issue and included some misinformation. It left the impression that this new class on Islam had been “slipped” into California public schools and that the state was mandating activities such as had been described as happening in the Byron School District.
Forrest Turpen is the Executive Director of the Christian Educator’s Association International (www.ceai.org). It is a Christian group committed to educators and educational issues in public schools. Turpin says the teaching about Islam has not been “slipped” into the curriculum. Islam has been an important part of history, and therefore an important part of studying history for a long time and is a part of the state guidelines for seventh graders just as teaching about Christianity is a part of the educational guidelines for 6th graders. That is the reason, according to Turpin, why the textbook “Across the
Centuries” deals with Islam more than Christianity. It’s a seventh grade text and that is the grade when Islam is studied. “In fact,” says Turpin, “the state of California has been a leader in requiring a balance of teaching about who we are and what has empowered us as a civilization.”
Tom Adams, the administrator for curriculum framework at the state education department, told the Contra Costa Times that state guidelines (for seventh grade) do include a unit on Islamic civilization in the medieval world, however, it should be an academic approach on the historical significance of the religion. It should not be construed as an endorsement of it.
How the guidelines are implemented in the classroom is largely up to the teacher and critics say that in many classrooms, Islam has been emphasized while other religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, have sometimes been hardly touched upon. In an article on WorldNetDaily.com, Diana Lynne said that other parents in California have reported Islam-related activities that have caused them concern. One parent says her daughter was indoctrinated about Islam for four months while in seventh grade in Elk Grove, California. She said one day, she arrived at school to find a banner in front that said “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.” She says she had also seen children chanting from the Koran and praying.
TruthOrFiction.com also reviewed the portions of the textbook “Across the Centuries” that deal with Islam. The text does present Islam in a positive way, which critics say ignores some of the aspects of Islamic history that aren’t so positive, especially violent conquest.
Another complaint about the text is that it treats the claims of Islam as “fact.” TruthOrFiction.com has reviewed the disputed passages and found that most of them, with a couple of exceptions, are attributed in some way to Moslem belief, rather than stated fact. Several of the disputed passages that are being passed around the Internet are from a section in the text that is under the umbrella title “The Teachings of Islam.” Many of the sentences in that section have no attribution because they are already being presented as Islamic belief.
There is protest from some parents about the suggested student activities in the textbook such as imaging being a Muslim soldier on the way to conquer Syria and journaling thoughts about Islam and being in battle; building a miniature mosque as a class activity; writing about a journey to Mecca; Contemplating why Islam was so attractive to Arabs and others in Southwest Asia. One veteran teacher told TruthOrFiction.com, however, that those kinds of suggested activities are commonly used by teachers and that he doesn’t view them as being in the book in order to favor Islam. He said that there are similar suggestions in the sixth grade textbook including having the students discuss what role the Israelite’s relationship with God played in the formation of their nation, explaining the covenant that the Israelites made with God, imagining being with the Jews when they were conquered by the Babylonians and forced into exile, discussing how Judaism and Christianity are related, how the teachings of Jesus were similar or different from those of other Jews, and doing a presentation of the differences of the religious views of the Sadducees and the Pharisees.