Loudon school board defends Islamic curriculum
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
LOUDON — The Loudon County school board on Thursday night became the latest educational group to discuss state mandated curriculum changes that involve teaching students more about Islamic culture and its role in history.
Director of Schools Jason Vance said the state mandated the study of different religions but that he was confident his teachers were following the curriculum properly. The proper place for religious instruction was in the home, he said.
"We are teaching about religion. We are not teaching religion," said North Middle School social studies teacher Erin McNish.
Board Chairman Scott Newman said he invited McNish to speak to the board to provide a better understanding of how religion is being integrated into the curriculum.
McNish, who has been teaching for 11 years, said the discussion of religions' roles is not new to the schools. The instruction is usually chronologically based, along with teaching about the growth of western civilization. It involves five major religions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism — and how each had an influence.
"For example, we teach how Christianity was spread throughout Europe by the Roman road system," she said.
Board member Gary Ubben said he agreed that it was important to understand the influence of different religions, not just in the past but in the present. "If you look at world politics today you can't understand what's going on if you don't understand Islam," he said.
Board member Ric Best agreed that the schools are not teaching religion. "There's nothing in here that would lead one toward one religion or the other," he said.
Some residents in the audience disagreed. Bob Miles of Loudon gave examples of students in other Tennessee counties who have been required to memorize the five pillars of Islam or to recite "Allah is the one God."
McNish said that she had discussed the five pillars of Islam but not required her students to memorize them. The total instruction on Islam takes about two days, she said.
James Raucci said his own study of different religions in college led to some confusion in his own mind and fears grade schoolchildren will be confused by different theologies.
"I'm concerned for the future," he said.
Raucci said he understood that the changes in curriculum were mandated by the state but said it was the duty of elected officials like the school board to push back.
Board member Best, a retired educator, said that if the teachers did not teach the state mandated curriculum, the students would be at a disadvantage in the standardized testing.
Air Force veteran Sean Kelly told the commission he had served with men and women of all faiths and thought it was important that students should have an understanding in different faiths.
"Most of the wars you see are fought over religion," he said.