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Word of public-school students pretending to be Muslims, wearing robes, simulating jihads and memorizing verses from the Koran in a seventh-grade California classroom touched off a firestorm of debate, but WorldNetDaily has learned these classroom exercises are neither isolated to one school district nor are they anything new.
Parents of seventh-graders across the state report similar experiences, and one tells WND she battled with her school district over the Islam teachings in 1994.
As WorldNetDaily reported last week, an article by Assist News Service described student activities at Excelsior School in Byron, Calif., where “students are to pretend that they are Muslims, wear Muslim clothing to school, stage their own jihad via a dice game and pick out a Muslim name (to replace their own) from a list of 30.”
ANS quoted an “outraged” teacher at Excelsior and parent of a seventh-grader: “We can’t even mention the name of Jesus in the public schools, but … they teach Islam as the true religion, and students are taught about Islam and how to pray to Allah.”
The story sparked outrage and prompted a flood of 500 calls, WorldNetDaily was told, to the Byron Union School District the following morning. Principal Nancie Castro also reports receiving about 200 hate e-mails. The story quickly became grist for talk shows from 560 KSFO radio to the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” program. And in response to the story posted on WorldNetDaily, the international public-interest law firm The American Center for Law and Justice is demanding Excelsior School permit students to opt out of the course, contending it “is a violation of the First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights of students and violates the right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.”
In its letter to the Byron Union School District, ACLJ states, “We want to make sure this district knows that it crossed the line. We also want to make sure that other school districts don’t fall into the same trap and require students to attend courses that violate their own religious beliefs.”
Dealing with ‘hysteria’
The raging controversy has parents blaming schools, schools blaming the state, and one lawsuit blaming the course textbook adopted by the state. Castro also blames the media. In a letter sent to parents, she claims the school has been “victimized by a classic case of misinformation that has led to hysteria among people outside of our community.” Included in the “misinformation” in the ANS report, according to Castro, is that it was not mandatory for students to take names of Arabs of the Middle Ages or to wear Muslim clothing, and they did not wear the robes to school but only during the class “simulation.”
As for the simulated jihad Castro explained, “There was a dice game where, depending on the role, they had to do various things like answer a quiz bowl question or read a trivia fact. One roll had them roll for the highest number and called it a jihad.” In a response to a query from Prophezine News, Castro explained, “Dressing up in costume, role-playing and simulation games are all used to stimulate class discussion and are common teaching practices used in other subjects as well.”
When asked whether students were to memorize Islamic terms, phrases, proverbs and the Five Pillars of Faith of the Islam religion, as reported by ANS, Castro replied, “There are vocabulary words to be learned as in every unit. They did not have to memorize proverbs or prayers. They learned some phrases such as peace be with you, but nothing religious or praying to Allah.”
As for lessons from the Koran, Castro said, “There are some verses in the text that are read, just like there are Bible verses in the text in the section on Christianity.” WorldNetDaily has learned, however, that students were offered extra credit if they memorized verses from the Koran. Sources also report that no Bible verses were learned, and Christianity overall was “barely touched on.”
It is this perceived slighting of Christianity and Judaism contrasted with the virtual promotion of Islam in public schools that parents are taking issue with all across the state, from Byron in Northern California south to San Diego. But WND has discovered that the issue is not new.
Valerie Moore says her daughter “was indoctrinated in the Islamic religion for over four months while in the seventh grade” in 1994. Moore expressed shock in arriving at Joseph Kerr Junior High School in Elk Grove, Calif., one day and being greeted by a “huge banner on the front grounds of the school that read ‘There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.'” Moore also recounts witnessing “children dressed in Muslim attire, chanting from the Koran and praying while marching around the cabala.” Moore recalls the banner being up all day.
“What if we put up a sign that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ for 30 minutes? Oh, no. You can’t do that – separation of church and state,” Moore laments. “They aren’t just teaching them about Islam; they have them practicing it. They have them kneeling down and praying to Allah. I have a problem with that. That’s more like inculcation.” Moore says when she complained to the school officials she was ridiculed and yelled at.
In her letter to parents, Castro maintained, “At no point do we teach or endorse religion; we teach about religions’ impact from a historical context. … students learn about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and other major religions as they apply to the understanding of history and the development of major Western and non-Western civilizations. This is the state-approved curriculum, using state-adopted textbooks and has been part of the instructional program in California for over a decade.”
Content standards adopted in 1998 by the California State Board of Education explicitly state the content students need to acquire at each grade level from kindergarten to grade 12. The standards lay out the following for seventh grade World History and Geography:
7.2 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages.
- Identify the physical features and describe the climate of the Arabian peninsula, its relationship to surrounding bodies of land and water, and nomadic and sedentary ways of life.
- Trace the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of Mohammad, including Islamic teachings on the connection with Judaism and Christianity.
- Explain the significance of the Koran and the Sunnah as the primary sources of Islamic beliefs, practice, and law, and their influence in Muslims’ daily life.
- Discuss the expansion of Muslim rule through military conquests and treaties, emphasizing the cultural blending within Muslim civilization and the spread and acceptance of Islam and the Arabic language.
- Describe the growth of cities and the establishment of trade routes among Asia, Africa, and Europe, the products and inventions that traveled along these routes (e.g., spices, textiles, paper, steel, new crops), and the role of merchants in Arab society.
- Understand the intellectual exchanges among Muslim scholars of Eurasia and Africa and the contributions Muslim scholars made to later civilizations in the areas of science, geography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, art, and literature.
“The state guidelines call for the approach to religion to be academic, not devotional,” stressed Tom Adams, the adminstrator for curriculum framework.
“I can’t confirm what went on at Byron but I don’t believe they were following the framework,” he added.
The Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources (the framework), first adopted in 1988 and updated in 2000 incorporate the content standards and serve as the basis for statewide assessment. The framework for history-social science for grade seven provides for an examination of “the rise of Islam as a religion and as a civilization. … The religious ideas of Mohammed, the founder of Islam, should be discussed both for their ethical teachings and as a way of life. Mohammed should be seen as a major historical figure who helped establish the Islamic way of life, its code of ethics and justice, and its rule of law.”
While the framework encourages “simulations, role playing and dramatizations,” Appendix C specifies that “the school may sponsor study about religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion.”
When asked about the scant coverage of Christianity and Judaism versus Islam set forth in the content standards and framework for grade seven, Adams points to the curriculum for sixth-graders. That framework instructs:
“6. Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish-Messianic Prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament, and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs (e.g., belief in the Trinity, resurrection, salvation).”
Adams also stresses the state guidelines and standards “are not mandatory,” and the state recognizes the need for local control within school districts. Asked whether Byron would exercise local control and opt out of the Islam studies, Castro replied, “The state tests our students and ranks are performance on this curriculum. If we didn’t teach parts of it, students would not succeed in achieving the standards.”
Pitfalls of discretion
Parent Valerie Moore believes part of the problem lies in the discretion exercised by the teachers.
“The teacher spent four months on Islam and then ran out of time to teach about the Reformation and all that,” she said.
Field surveys conducted in 1994 by state educators substantiate Moore’s claim, revealing “gaps in student learning.” Appendix D of the framework states, “For example, in some sixth-grade classrooms students never reached the study of ancient Rome because of the extended time they spent on the study of Mesopotamia and Egypt earlier in the year. Some seventh-graders never studied about Europe during the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution” – lessons which follow the unit on Islam.
‘Pro Islamic, anti-Chrisitan textbook’
Moore and other parents find the course textbook, “Across the Centuries,” to be skewed.
“I started reading my daughter’s textbook and was astonished that nothing in the book resembled the history that I had been taught. It had all been distorted and rewritten,” says Moore, “No longer could the founding of America be traced through Judeo/Christian beginnings. … The history had been altered to now show that America had been given birth through an Islamic heritage. Everything sprang up through Islam.”
The Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization, has mounted a challenge to the textbook on behalf of a concerned parent from San Luis Obispo. Jen Schroeder noticed her son’s textbook “had a distinct bias toward Islam over Christianity” and proceeded to scour the book, writing a 10-page content analysis of it over the winter break. (See .pdf version of Schroeder’s report.)
“I was shocked,” Schroeder told WorldNetDaily.
“Across the Centuries,” she says, “instructs our children to ‘imagine you are a Muslim soldier’ and write about it; ‘imagine you are on a Mecca pilgrimage’ and write about it; to research what a mosque looks like and then to build a replica of one. Another assignment is to write why other nations are attracted to Islam. … I found 20 Islamic beliefs stated as fact.”
While presenting a “white-washed version of Islam,” Schroeder asserts the textbook goes out of its way to depict Christianity in a negative light.
“In the textbook, there is a large three-column block titled ‘Understanding Religious Persecution,’ which blames Christians exclusively for persecuting others and forcing beliefs, when in fact there have been more Christian martyrs than any other religion.”
“The Bible says ‘Take heed that you do not inquire how other nations serve their gods,'” continues Schroeder, “For my son to obey the school, he must disobey what the Bible tells him.”
Schroeder tried to opt Eric out of the class but says the principal told her “no” because the state assessments require the knowledge presented in the class.
“It seems everyone has rights except the Christians, and I have no choice but to file a lawsuit.”
Pacific Justice Institute had scholars comb through both the textbook and the teacher’s version to substantiate Schroeder’s content analysis prior to filing the administrative complaint.
“The average parent would be outraged to see this kind of bias and distortion of world history,” said Brad Dacus, the group’s chief counsel.
California adopted the textbook in 1991. When asked why ten years have passed without a major challenge, Dacus replied, “Parents overlooked it, thinking Islam is far away. They never saw it as having a threat to their children. [The terror attacks of Sept. 11 have] changed that and [have] created more scrutiny.”
When seventh-grader Eric, was asked how he felt about the instruction, he responded, “It hurts my stomach.”