A mother whose son brought home a school assignment to list the Five Pillars of Islam posted her disapproval of the lesson on Facebook, but didn’t receive the online support she expected.
When Tara Cali’s son brought home the assignment from his seventh-grade World History class, she didn’t let him complete it. Instead, the Bakersfield, Calif, mom wrote a note on the paper explaining her problems with the task. “My son will not be a part of this in any sort of way. This is bad teaching material. He will not partake. If you have a problem with it, call our lawyer,” she wrote. She went on to cite Bible verses and wrote, “How about Christian practices? That sheet has never come home, this year or last!”
Cali posted the photo to the Facebook page of local news KGET last week, where it has gotten an overwhelming response — more than 39,000 likes and 124,000 shares. It has also received more than 10,000 comments, but the majority disagree with Cali’s stance.
“You could have written a letter to turn in with the homework assignment addressing your concerns and stating your son would not participate in this lesson,” wrote one commenter. “Instead, you have helped teach your son intolerance — because you don’t believe in a religion that he is learning about in school, you have written scriptures from your own all over it about why these people are wrong and you are right. That is a true shame.”
Added another, “I went to a PRIVATE CHRISTIAN school for my entire K-12 education, and I still remember being taught this same material (yes, even in a private Christian school). History/social studies classes exist to learn about the world before and around us. How do we do that? By learning about the other cultures and beliefs that exist in our world. Life in the Islamic countries revolves around their religion: laws, holidays, cultural events ALL have to do with their beliefs. As such, to learn about them, you should learn about the basic tenets of their religion.” The majority of comments are along similar lines, many of which show pictures of the school’s textbook, entitled “World History: Medieval to Modern Times,” to show that Christianity and its practices are, in fact, included.
In an email to Yahoo Parenting, Cali says she takes issue with Qur’an scripture that is included in the textbook and homework.
“It isn’t the assignment itself, it is the context of the school book that upsets me,” she says. “There are two pages of straight Qur'an scripture and then the various worksheets have scripture at the top. If a Mormon child, Christian child or Buddhist child brought their book of faith to school, the uproar would have been insane. My concern is that we are on a fast slope to removing God from all parts of the educational system but we are quickly inserting other’s Gods. It needs to be all or nothing. Equality of religion is important.”
Officials from the Bakersfield City School did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
Commenters on the Facebook post point out that the instructions that accompany the excerpt of the Qur’an that Cali mentions encourage students to “look for words and phrases that are repeated within the text. Think about the reasons for this repetition.” Notes one Facebook user, “The directions clearly ask to look for repetition (a literary tool) and the worksheet is asking them to interpret what they read, and apply it, not to their life, but to the life of a Muslim.”
Still, Cali says she wants the school to get new textbooks. “I don’t believe my religion or [anyone’s] should be overshadowed by another’s. My intention is to bring light to this situation that our books make no sense. History teachers are not qualified to teach religion. Scripture doesn’t belong in public schools. If we are going to have it, then I want all of it.”
But David Barkley, Southeastern Area & National Religious Freedom Counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, says that as long as religion is being taught from a secular manner, it’s permissible. “Our schools aren’t devoid of religion,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “Schools can teach about religion but they can’t indoctrinate religion. If you are teaching the history of religion in a comparative religion class, that is permissible and appropriate. Our kids need to learn about all kinds of people and diversity of faiths. To teach about Islam, you have to teach about what Muslim people believe and what the faith teaches. As long as you are not saying, ‘this is a valid religious belief’ or ‘this is the truth’ than it is constitutionally permissible.”
Barkley acknowledges that some parents may take issue with any religious teaching, but says that “schools have every right to teach students about religion.”
To Cali’s point regarding an uproar if “a Mormon child, Christian child or Buddhist child brought their book of faith to school,” Barkley says all students can do so. “Any student has the right to bring their religious book to school and read it on their own,” he says. “If your class is World History, Islam is a part of that, just like Christianity is and Judaism is and Hinduism is. How can you teach that history without saying that this is the belief system?”