Parents at a middle school in Spring Hill, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, are upset that their children have spent three weeks studying Islam and were assigned to write the Shahada profession of the Islamic faith: "Allah is the only god." Making the situation worse, parents said the teacher skipped over the section on Christianity.
Though the parents understand that a thorough study of history will undoubtedly cover religions from all over the world, they don't understand why so much time is being spent on this one. Plus, the class is delving into learning the specifics of the Five Pillars of Islam and thus causing parents to wonder if that constitutes teaching religion in schools.
“From a religion point of view, if the schools are going to be teaching religion in history, they need to teach them all equally," parent Brandee Porterfield told The Columbia Daily Herald. "For them to spend three weeks on Islam after having skipped Christianity, it seems to be that they are making a choice about which religion to discuss.”
Another parent, Joy Ellis, said she was aware her child was studying Islam but as far as having to write the Shahada, she said, "To me, a Christian child should not be made to write that."
“I honestly don’t want my child learning about Islam at all, but if they’ve got to learn about it, I would like for them to learn about the historical aspects of it and definitely nothing about the religion. I don’t want her writing ‘Allah is the only god,’” Ellis added.
But according to school officials, the class is just following Tennessee state standards adopted by Gov. Bill Haslem. Though he signed a bill against Common Core in May, the new TN Core standards are said to be very similar to the controversial curriculum.
The middle school supervisor for Maury County Public Schools Dr. Jan Hanvey stated that these topics have been covered in the area schools for 31 years and said that the three weeks of study doesn't only focus on the religion but the culture, economics, geography and government around the religion. She assures that only one day is spent talking about Islam and students will also get to Buddhism and Hinduism later on.
Hanvey also stated that the chapter on Christianity wasn't skipped intentionally, but put off for another time, when the history class will study America and the Age of Exploration.
Hanvey blames recent events for causing the public to "fear" Islam, much like the way, she said, people feared the Japanese during World War II. “It’s hard to separate religion from history,” Hanvey said. “It’s teaching about religion. We are not trying to convert.”
In a statement, Spring Hill Middle School Principal Shanda Sparrow acknowledged that perhaps the school did "not do the best job" in warning parents of sensitive subjects that their children were scheduled to learn. To promote an "open dialogue," a parent-teacher meeting is set up for later in September to address the concern.
Maury County Schools Director Chris Marczak wrote a defense on Facebook saying the assignment was to teach the religion to students, not convert them, nor "to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate." He added:
I encourage all Maury County parents to be their child’s first and main teacher. It is our job as parents of our own children to instill in them the beliefs of our individual households. It’s important that we establish a good working relationship with our children’s teachers and schools so that when there are questions or concerns, teachers and principals are the first line of asking. If we are truly going to Grow Maury County together, then we need to openly talk and discuss about what we want to emphasize in our county. I encourage you to talk with your children, talk with your teachers, and talk with your principals. We are here to help your children be prepared for Life.
A photograph of one of the assignments shows one child's disapproval:
The same issue was raised earlier this year in Florida when high school students were assigned to recite the Five Pillars of Islam and make their own prayer rug. This story also included missing sections of Christianity from the textbook.