Friday, December 19, 2014

Islam in South Bay Schools

Islam is coming to a school near you. Should we be worried about it? The latest article in Easy Reader News invites some unique insight as well as discussion for parents and local leaders concerned about the state of public education in the South Bay.

Easy Reader News reported on the controversial at a Manhattan Beach School Board Meeting:

A group of protesters asked the Manhattan Beach Unified School District to review how it teaches Islam at the school board’s meeting on Dec. 10.

A couple stood outside the building’s entrance with signs that said “Stop teaching Islam,” and “No Islam en la escuela” [sic]. As people entered, they handed out pamphlets that said in all caps, “TEACHING ISLAM WITHOUT WARNING LABELS IS LIKE STORING DRAINO IN A SUGAR BOWL.”

A protest with diverse tracts attended the school board meeting.

During the meeting, 11 individuals explained how they thought the school board should change or eliminate its teaching of Islam.

“Mein Kampf reads like a love story compared to the Quran,” said Steve Amundson. “I propose Islam be removed from the curriculum. It’s more akin to Nazism than a religion.”

Ouch! Heated remarks, to put it mildly. I have spoken with ardent activists deeply concerned by Islam. I share their concerns. The more that I learn about this religion, the more evident the violent nature of the faith is borne out.

The parents of a Manhattan Beach Middle School seventh grader said that they became concerned when their son showed them his homework, which asked students to write down the five tenets of Islam.

“This is the homework that set us off,” said Judy Diethelm as she held up the worksheet. “He had to write down ‘Allah is the one true God.’ The curriculum being presented is indoctrination, and we are opposed to this.”

If students write down the tenets of a religion, does the individual became an adherent of that faith? Students learn about Judaism, they learn about Christianity, and other faiths (especially in Sixth Grade). No one raises a fuss during those years.

However, parents do share concerns with their school principals and board members if their students do not learn about Christianity in the Sixth grade, yet they get the learning in Seventh Grade. Sometime, the previous teacher neglects to talk about the other faiths.

Still, the argument that Islam as merely a different religion is less convincing for concerned parents and local leaders.

The boy’s father, Keith Johnson, said that they had asked the school’s principal to remove the textbook, Medieval and Early Modern Times.

“We are not anti-Islam, but pro-equality,” he said.

Numerous rules in the Koran enshrine inequality, the poor treatment of women, children, and foreigners. The historical realities, and the present political implications, of Islam are erupting around the world, and in the United States.

Later, Gary Aven of Redondo Beach asked where the principal, John Jackson, was.

“He’s right here,” said a man, indicating the man next to him.

“Why didn’t you respond to that parent?” he asked, pointing at Jackson.

“Oh, I did,” said Jackson before Bill Fournell, the newly elected president of the school board, interrupted.

“Sir, this isn’t an inquisition,” he said to giggles from a group of high school students.

Superintendent Michael Matthews

Once public comment ended, Superintendent Michael Matthews said that the textbook and curriculum were “specifically prescribed” by the state, and that he supported that mandate.
“Scrutiny can be a great thing,” said Matthews. “I’m proud to be a place where people can come to us to speak their mind. But in terms of banning a certain part of the curriculum that people don’t agree with, I’m not going to go along with that.”

I agree with this sentiment in general. It is a dangerous precedent for local representatives to complain about any material, and right away the school board and superintendent must acquiesce.

A deeper problem arises, though, which parents and students should care about. Why is it that school boards must take on the prescribed material?

He invited the protesters to give their feedback to the state.

It's called an election, and in 2014, Democrats lost their supermajority. Will they lose their grip on public education soon, too?

After the meeting, Jackson and a couple of others discussed how they would exit the building. When asked if other parents had contacted him about the Islam issue, he said no.

“Outside the board meetings, they’re the only ones,” he said.

In the hallway outside the meeting, Diethelm said that she wasn’t surprised by the school board’s reaction and that she planned to take the issue to the state and possibly, to court. She said she was working with attorney Bill Becker, who was fighting the same issue in Tennessee.

“We’re disappointed but we expected it,” she said. “We were warned.”
Mira Costa High School senior Dana Sternthal, who went to Manhattan Beach Middle School, attended the meeting for her school newspaper. She gave her thoughts in the parking lot after the meeting.

This reporting gives us more insight into the individuals who attended the meeting, and their reaction to the school board's take on their concerns.

“As a person who went through the curriculum, I didn’t feel like I was being indoctrinated,” she said. “We learned what Muslim people believe, just like Judaism. It was all evenly taught. They always gave the disclaimer that they were not trying to convert you.”

Education about other people's beliefs is essential for anyone to thrive in the adult world.

She said that she thought that the fact that so many of the protesters were from outside of the school district showed that it was “not an issue a lot of people in the district see.”

This concern deserves more attention. Is it really true that residents in Manhattan Beach are not concerned about the teaching of Islam? I have spoken with local leaders, and many parents are intimidated by the school board. There are some parents who do speak up and challenge the school board's decisions. Most people unhappy with their local governments are afraid to speak up for a number of reasons, but their silence does not mean approval.

Her fellow newspaper staffer, junior Diego Marcucci, didn’t attend Manhattan Beach Middle School but attended the meeting. He took issue with a couple of protesters’ focus on a source that said that the Muslim prophet Mohammed married a six-year-old girl.

This is not "a source": it's a historical fact. Does the middle school curriculum need to teach it, though?

“That has nothing to do with the tenets of Islam,” he said. “They’re trying to villainize Islam.”

Parents have every right to be concerned about the content of their children's education. Teachers face many heavy demands on their time, and often they cannot sit down with every parent and respond to their concerns. Nor can the school board. More parents are choosing to homeschool their children because of their lack of authority over school curriculum. Moreover, the sclerotic nature of school boards makes it almost impossible to effect real change in a timely fashion.

One other concern stands out from the protests over Islam in local schools. Aside from one parent sharing her distaste with the material, most of the people in the audience were not from the school district, nor did they have kids enrolled in Manhattan Beach schools. Conservatives who are worried about the content and direction of local schools need to work with Parent-Teacher Associations and their supporters before trying to make inroads in changing curriculum, procedures, or long-term goals of South Bay schools.

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