Education doesn’t mean Indoctrination

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People are outraged at a school in Tennessee. It has been reported that kids at Spring Hill Middle School have been forced to recite a popular creed of Islam in class: “There is no God but Allah”. Parents are up in arms, demanding repercussions for the teachers who, they accuse, are trying to indoctrinate and convert their kids to Islam. On the surface, it is easy to see why these parents are outraged. Their kids, many Christian, as the school is in the heart of the Bible-belt, have been made to “proclaim” that Allah is the only God, contravening their own religious beliefs. But, upon learning more about the context (very important but often ignored) and circumstances in which these kids were made to recite this Islamic creed, one can only be bemused about all the outrage.

First of all, if you look at the widely circulating picture of the notes that the kids have been made to write, it becomes clear that in no way is this indoctrination. The kids are being taught the definition of a creed – a basic statement that sums up someone’s belief. Subsequently, in quotation marks, the kids have written “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”, the focal point of the outrage.

The quote marks are really important here in providing context, something all the outraged outlets such as Breitbart and Fox has omitted to note. These quotations marks indicate that these kids aren’t being made to recite and “proclaim” Allah as the one true God, as is being reported. Rather, they are being taught what Muslims recite every day, the “Shahada”, possibly the most basic and fundamental creed in Islam, hence the quotation marks. The teachers aren’t forcing this Islamic creed down the throats of vulnerable young Christian children, which is the caricature being presented; they are introducing to these students the religion of Islam, not converting them.

If you look closely, the final line of the student’s notes reads “When a Muslim recites the creed, they are saying…”, followed by three explanatory points about what the creed means. This is textbook teaching, isn’t it? The teacher first provides the definition (creed), then the example (Shahada) and finally the explanation of what the creed means. But, rather than applaud the quality teaching being displayed here, some parents aren’t happy with the school to say the least.

“It tells me they are trying to convert my children to being Muslim”, an outraged parent told Fox News. Well, if that’s what your child learning about the second most followed religion in the world is telling you, then you ought to take your child out of the school, because you don’t seem to like your child being educated.

What makes all this outrage even more bemusing is the fact that the lesson being taught was social studies, where students learn about society and the wider world around them. Maury County Director of Schools, Chris Marczak, defended the school in a statement, saying that the school system is not endorsing Islam over other religions or trying to “indoctrinate” students. Outraged parent Joy Ellis rebutted in an interview with Breitbart: “I didn’t have a problem with the history of Islam being taught, but to go so far as to make my child write the Shahada, is unacceptable.” So writing down the creed was what crossed the line for her – I didn’t know copying something down meant acceptance in what is being written.

Moreover, in what is possibly the most disturbing part of this whole story, outraged parents are asking why their kids aren’t being taught about ISIS and Islamic terrorists, in what they are calling the “white-washing” of Islam. “The textbook is a very cleaned up version of Islam,” another parent told Fox News. Fox News columnist Todd Starnes agrees: “There were no discussions about extremists slaughtering Christians and Jews. There were no chapters on the extremists beheading people.”

Ummmm, first of all, it doesn’t strike me as a good idea to teach 7th and 8th graders about people being beheaded and murdered by ISIS, regardless of your opinion on Islam. Just doesn’t seem like a good thing to do. Secondly, if you think that the religion of Islam, a religion of 1.6 billion followers, is best represented by the extremists in ISIS beheading and raping innocent civilians, then you probably need a social studies lesson yourself.

(On a side note, I often wonder how beneficial and eye-opening it would be for those people who relentlessly paint Islam as a religion of evil, people who are absolutely opposed to the religion, to have friends or acquaintances who are Muslims. I have several friends who are Muslims, people who I have frequently talked to, debated, discussed and argued with about the religion of Islam. I often question them about the Qur’an, and the barbaric things I see and hear on the news that are constantly placed under the banner of Islam. I have thought of the same criticism of Islam that many on the right have expressed constantly, but having Muslim friends who I talk to has provided me with a perspective and insight that is hard to find, especially when the public discourse surrounding Islam is so overwhelmingly dominated by the actions of a minority of extremists, ignoring the majority of peaceful Muslims)