Hard To Believe

A recent story from the newswires of CNN raises some deep and disturbing issues:

Administrators shut down 24 schools in Augusta County, Virginia, on Friday after a homework assignment on Islam drew fury from parents, CNN reported.

Cheryl LaPorte, a world geography teacher at Riverheads High School, assigned her students homework using a standard workbook on world religions that asked students to copy religious calligraphy.
The assignment read: “Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.”
The calligraphy translated to, “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah,” according to CNN.
The assignment immediately drew ire from some parents who called for LaPorte’s firing for “violating children’s religious beliefs,” reported The News Leader, a local newspaper. The Virginia Department of Education reviewed the the assignment and found that it did not violate student rights.
The cancellation of school on Friday essentially started the district’s winter break early.
School administrators released a statement to parents saying that while there was no specific threat to students, schools were closed on Friday.
They cited a risk of harm to officials as the reason for the closure. “Some communications posed a risk of harm to school officials,” the school’s statement read, according to WHSV-TV, a local news station. “Others threatened significant protests on or near school property. Those communications are in the hands of the sheriff.”

The threats to teachers and administrators raises the greatest concern. We have truly become a nation of bigots and haters who see no reason not to threaten those who disagree with us. And, of course, there are those running for the highest office in this land who not only encourage this attitude, but give it strong impetus. One might feel these things, but it takes assurance from those around us to actually make those feelings public. And when those around us are led by a few who are regarded as smarter  (and more “successful”) than the rest of us, it becomes all too tempting to give vent to the most hateful feeling that are deep within us. And if this seems a bit of a stretch, please consider that Donald the Trumpet, for one, recently spoke with an interviewer about his relationship with Vladimir Putin whom he admires as a “strong leader” and responded to the question of whether he would approve the killing of journalists with the following dismissal: “He’s running his country and he’s a leader,” . . . Unlike what we have in this country.”

In any event, at a time when we need increased understanding of those who differ from us, the parents who shouted loudly at this class assignment were guaranteeing that they and their children would have little or nothing to do with the religion of Islam. “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.” This sort of attitude tells us many things, but above all else it shows what a difficult, if not impossible, job our teachers have in opening closed minds when the parents of their students resist strongly and threaten grievous bodily harm. It was wise to close the schools until tempers cool off. But the deeper problems will persist.

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7 thoughts on “Hard To Believe

  1. Hugh, this is unfortunate. Plus, the vile responses are nothing to be proud of. I am reminded of a professor’s comment to me. She sponsors an Inner Faith group on a large university campus. The only group that does not actively participate are the evangelical Christians. We are all entitled to believe they we want, but how will someone know how similar religion is if we close our minds.

  2. I would argue that one can learn about the religion of Islam without writing one of their most important tenets in calligraphy. The teacher’s mistake, in my opinion, is assigning that. Imagine asking a classroom of children to write, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” in Hebrew. There would probably be arguments about that. A teacher could assign a much less polarizing statement to copy. Teachers do need to think about the consequences of certain assignments when they could be interpreted as controversial. I certainly would not support violence directed towards teachers, however.

    Having taught the biological concept of evolution in a Christian fundamentalist area, I was careful in how I presented the material. I told the students I did not expect them to believe what I was teaching, and if they disagreed, knowing the concept of evolution might allow them to better argue their position. I even gave them a safe forum to do so. It was a mindful teaching decision made in higher education. It resulted in good discussion among students mature enough to do so.

    As for being close minded about religion, I know as a parent of young children, that their religious formation is paramount to me. It is my duty to teach them our faith. I wouldn’t practice my faith if I didn’t believe it to be true. I would not want teachers treading on that responsibility. As my high school children become more mature and have an understanding of our faith, then we talk openly about religious differences. It isn’t until the end of the dialectic stage and going in the rhetoric stages are children mature enough to use reason and practice self discovery. Unfortunately, most children today do not receive a classical education in pursuit of truth. Thus, there exists a population of adults and youth unable to use reason and be “open-minded.”

    So, maybe the real issue is the failure of the educational system to develop critical thinkers using Classical Education methodology…..Hugh?

    • Thanks, Katy. It is certainly one of the major failures of education, as you suggest. It is a shame that not all teachers are as thoughtful and careful as you are. I dare say this was a brief episode in a workbook provided by the Education Establishment and the students would have learned very little, if much at all — certainly not enough to rattle the cages of their Christian faith.I do wonder why the calligraphy was included, but it really shouldn’t have been an issue. As I say, this was not something to get the parents upset and their reaction is inexcusable.

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