Too Much Time on Teachings of Islam?

Posted: 11/10/2007 1:11:00 AM
Author: Amana Dyer
Source: This article opriginaslly appeared in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

Too Much Time on Teachings of Islam?
Parents say seventh-grade textbook at Houston Elementary inappropriate
by Amanda Dyer
News-Sentinel Staff Writer

The parents of children at Houston Elementary School plan to complain to the school board about concerns they have with a seventh-grade history textbook, which they feel pays an undue amount of attention to the teachings of Islam.

When Jim Self asked his son last week what he was learning in school, he was surprised to hear his 12-year-old boy say that he was learning about the Prophet Muhammad.

That night Jim Self and his wife, Korina, flipped through their son’s textbook, “History Alive!: The Medieval World and Beyond,” and found at least three chapters dedicated to the Islamic faith, including an entire chapter dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad.

Since then, the couple has started a campaign to remove the textbook from their child’s classroom. The book is used in classrooms throughout the district.

“I don’t think we would have an issue about it if (it wasn’t so) in-depth,” said Jim Self, who fought in Iraq as a Marine from 2003 to 2004.

Among the Selfs’ concerns about the textbook is its definition of the word “jihad,” which is described in the book as “the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that would be pleasing to God.”

Other concerns stem from a passage on page 86 of the textbook, which quotes the angel Gabriel’s words to the Prophet Muhammad.

The Selfs said the textbook mentioned Jesus only twice, and other major religions were only given a paragraph of explanation.

One of the Selfs’ biggest concerns, though, is that such detailed explanation of Islam is a violation of the separation of church and state.

“If he was in college and he was studying world religions, fine,” Jim Self said.

The Selfs, who are Christians, worry that their reaction to the textbook will cause people to label them as religious “wackos.”

“We’re just regular people,” Jim Self said.

The Selfs don’t have an issue with their son learning about other cultures, but said that each culture should be represented equally.

“They want to take the Ten Commandments off the steps of the Supreme Court, but you’re going to teach my 12-year-old son how to pray?” Jim Self asked.

In fact, the Selfs’ asked that their son not be named to avoid unwanted repercussions.

But that didn’t stop them from telling Houston Elementary’s administration that their son will not be participating in history class, a request with which the school has complied.

“I was very clear that my son will not be studying these next few chapters,” Korina Self said.

However, Anne Cecchetti, curriculum coordinator of instructional media services at Lodi Unified School District, had a different take on the textbook, which she said has been approved by the state board of education.

“We’re just explaining something. That’s education,” Cecchetti said. “When you start espousing a religion, that’s when you have a problem with the separation of church and state.”

Cecchetti was surprised that the Selfs had not been informed of Lodi Unified’s school board policy that allows any resident or employee to challenge a textbook if they feel the book is inappropriate. Forms for requests for formal reconsideration are on hand at each school site, according to board policy.

Korina and Jim Self have been encouraging other parents to look at the textbook and make their own conclusions. Korina Self said she would be collecting signatures of parents who disapproved of the textbook during the next few days.

She also said she would bring the matter to the attention of the school board during its next meeting on Nov. 6.

Parents in Arizona requested that the same textbook, which was being used on a trial basis, be pulled from classrooms in Scottsdale Unified School District because they felt the book contained Islamic propaganda, according to an article in the East Valley Tribune newspaper.

TCI, the book’s publisher, ended the trial period before the school district could act, saying that the book did not match with new state standards.

Natasha Martin, spokesperson for TCI, said the book does comply with California’s state standards and it was thoroughly reviewed by the state before being approved.

“It is common for parents in the state to raise concerns about the teaching of Islam because they do not know that it is required by the state standards, and they don’t understand that all major religions are taught as part of the sixthand seventhgrade world history courses,” Martin wrote in an e-mail.

Denice Shigematsu, principal at Houston Elementary, also said the book complies with a California state standard requiring students to learn about diverse religions.

Shigematsu said she has only received one complaint about the book this year. Shigematsu said she had received two separate complaints about textbooks in previous years, but the complaints were resolved once the parents met with the teacher and discussed how the curriculum was being taught.

However, that information isn’t comforting to parent Jordi Domenech, who said the text should cover all religions equally, or none at all.

"That’s something," Domenech said, "that should be taught at home."