My friend from college (who is Catholic, incidentally, so I’m not saying he was an atheist with an axe to grind) posted this article on FB. We could see the headline blurb in the FB thumbnail, and it said: “Virginia Schools Shut Down After Islam Is Included in World Religion Lesson.”
Now I knew that couldn’t possibly be the actual situation. So I was curious to see exactly what got all those Christian parents riled up, such that someone actually thought the ridiculous title above was close enough to the truth to justify making it the title. Here’s the story in a nutshell:
Be careful what you write — or what you ask high school children to write — in parts of Virginia. Apparently, having a go at the centuries-old skill of Arabic calligraphy by copying out the Islamic statement of faith could do funny things to your brain.
Parents of pupils at Riverheads High School in Augusta County managed to get themselves so worked up when their children were taught something about Arabic culture — during a World Geography class when they learn about different cultures — that schools across the district had to be closed down.
During a section where students learn about different world religions, teacher Cheryl LaPorte decided to demonstrate the intricacies of Arabic calligraphy, the earliest form of which dates back to the end of the 7th century, by asking the students to try to copy the shahada — the Islamic statement of faith, a basic proclamation that is one of the five Pillars of Islam.
The students were “not asked to translate the statement or to recite it,” said Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond in a statement. Rather, the teacher aimed to give students an “idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.” The exercise was taken from a teacher workbook called World Religions. [Bold added.]
So here are my thoughts (some of which I unloaded on my poor friend’s FB page):
(1) I am sure a lot of the complaining parents are not people I would want to be friends with.
(2) The headline said it was a “world religion lesson,” which certainly led me to believe that it was a lesson in a class on world religion. But the text clarifies that it was a geography class. So on that count alone the title is misleading; it led you to think parents had expected schools to not mention Islam in a class on world religions.
(3) The parents weren’t upset that kids learned about Islam, they were upset that kids were asked to write out a pillar of faith.
(4) If this were just an exercise in calligraphy, how would the author of this article feel if kids were asked in a public school, in keyboarding class, to type out, “I accept Jesus as my personal Lord and savior”–you know, just to get a feel for where you put your fingers in typing position?
(5) They explained that the kids weren’t asked to translate it, as if that made it better. Would it be OK for French teachers to have their new students write out “Voulez-vouz coucher avec moi, ce soir?” to work on their cursive, so long as they didn’t tell them what it meant?
(6) In general, the stereotype of idiot Christians complaining about knowledge is about as accurate as the TV sitcom stereotype that all men are buffoons. Yes, there’s an element of truth and that’s why the joke works, but it’s rather inaccurate and is annoying when coming from a place of hypocrisy and smugness. For example, I don’t know a single Christian who cares about Starbucks holiday cups. But I know at least 5 who said during that national mockfest, “I don’t know a single Christian who cares about Starbucks cups.”
(7) I’m not saying this outcome is unique to Christians; this is how our world works now. But when you can see how your “opponents” on some issue focus on a non-representative blowhard from “your team” in order to score bogus points, keep in mind that that happens when the target is someone you don’t like, too.