A controversial seventh grade social studies class unit on the history of Islam at Spring Hill Middle School has some parents concerned about its content.
Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak has asked parents concerned about a seventh grade social studies class on the history of Islam to discuss their questions in a Sept. 17 meeting with district teachers and administrators.
“If we are truly going to Grow Maury County together, then we need to openly talk and discuss about what we want to emphasize in our county,” Marczak said in a noon Thursday statement to district parents.
“I encourage you to talk with your children, talk with your teachers, and talk with your principals. We are here to help your children be prepared for Life.”
The issue arose over new state-mandated standards on middle school social studies about early American history. The standards were developed two years ago and implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.
A Spring Hill Middle School parent complained after seeing a school project her daughter had created featuring the Shahada, or Five Pillars of Faith in Islam: prayer, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage and creed.
The creed pillar is known in Arabic as “Shahada,” and in transcribing it students were instructed to write, “Allah is the only God,” said parent Brandee Porterfield.
“These [papers] belong to my daughter in seventh grade at Spring Hill Middle. They have studied Islam for three weeks, but skipped the whole chapter on Christianity because it’s not in the state standards.”
Porterfield said her daughter’s teacher “was not happy about it,” but told the parent she must teach to the standards.
“She said this will be on TCAPs. Both her teacher and Principal Shanda Sparrow said students would not have to write the Shahada again.
“The teacher approached my daughter before class and was very understanding. My daughter told her she would not recite or write the Shahada or anything saying ‘Allah is the only God.’ The teacher said she wouldn’t have to.”
During class time on Tuesday, Porterfield said the teacher verbally asked students about the five pillars, “And the students were reciting the Shahada.”
Marczak said Thursday the section covers early American History, world history early civilizations to the Roman Empire, Middle Ages through exploration of the Americas, and colonization to reconstruction of the Americas.
“Our teachers work together to make sure that our students are learning what is expected through the Tennessee academic standards. For this last section on the Islamic World this past week, our educators had students complete an assignment that had an emphasis on Islamic Faith. The assignment covered some sensitive topics that are of importance to Islamic religion and caused some confusion around whether we are asking students to believe in or simply understand the religion.
“It is our job as a public school system to educate our students on world history in order to be ready to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate.”
Marczak said he has discussed the parental reaction with Maury County Commissioner Donna Cook and District 64 State Rep. Sheila Butt about the state standards for the curriculum.
Cook said she has asked the matter be placed on the Board of Education’s Sept. 10 meeting so citizens can relate their concerns.
Marczak said the Tennessee State Standards on World History in 7th grade require students be taught “historical facts and our students are required to write as part of learning (being able to cite evidence from text). Teachers don’t encourage belief in any certain religion over another. We have students of all faiths in our classrooms and all students cover each world religion.”
“My child was required to write ‘Allah is the only God’,” parent Joy Ellis said. “This is a seventh grade state standard, and will be on the TCAP. Christianity was completely skipped and is not a standard. I didn’t have a problem with the history of Islam being taught, but to go so far as to make my child write the Shahada, is unacceptable.”
A foldable assignment given this week to seventh-graders at Spring Hill Middle School to list the five pillars of Islam. PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY BRANDEE PORTERFIELD.
Marczak said the teachers were covering world history facts of Europe, Southwest Asia, Africa and Asia in the areas of geography, government, culture, economics and religion” and suggested that parents discuss the matter with teachers at scheduled Sept. 17 parent-teacher conferences.
However, Maury resident Bob Crigger said Marczak’s remarks “skirt the real issue” and “shows a callous attitude.
“It did not address the main concern of the parents,” Crigger said. “The parents’ concern is not ‘social studies-world history content related to Southwest Asia culture and religion.’ They are concerned that their children are being taught Islam in the classroom.
“The MCPS refused to utter the word ‘Islam,’ which means they ignored the concerns of the parents, and it shows a callous attitude toward the parents. Not only did they skirt the real issue, but they told the parents to go to the principals of the various schools if they have any further questions.”
Crigger said pointing parents to their children’s principals is part of “a political shell game.”
“Principals are not the policymakers in the MCPS. They execute the polices set forth by the school board and director of schools. It is the school board and the director of schools who make the policies. In fact, they are the ones who have the authority and power to settle the issue of Islam being taught in the MCPS. All they have to do is delete the curriculum from the classrooms.
“Instead of being responsible and solving the concerns of the parents regarding Islam, the school board and the new director of schools is passing on their responsibility to principals. We are not going to put up with this political shell game. The government’s first priority is to protect its citizens. These are our children and we want them protected.”
Crigger has asked MCPS for a town hall meeting with the school board and director of schools.
“We want a large venue with open mics on the floor, and proper time for each parent and resident to speak. This way they can know the exact concern we have, instead of hiding our concerns with the politically correct statement they made.”
Here is the complete statement issued at noon Thursday by Marczak:
Message from Director Dr. Marczak: By now, many of you have heard what is taking place with concerns to the teaching section of middle school social studies. The standards that we have in place from the State of Tennessee are newer standards that were developed in 2013 and implemented last year, 2014-15 school year. In middle school, the standards have us address early American History, world history early civilizations to the Roman Empire, middle ages through exploration of the Americas, and colonization to reconstruction of the Americas. Our teachers work together to make sure that our students are learning what is expected through the Tennessee academic standards. For this last section on the Islamic World this past week, our educators had students complete an assignment that had an emphasis on Islamic Faith. The assignment covered some sensitive topics that are of importance to Islamic religion and caused some confusion around whether we are asking students to believe in or simply understand the religion. It is our job as a public school system to educate our students on world history in order to be ready to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate.
I encourage all Maury County parents to be their child’s first and main teacher. It is our job as parents of our own children to instill in them the beliefs of our individual households. It’s important that we establish a good working relationship with our children’s teachers and schools so that when there are questions or concerns, teachers and principals are the first line of asking. If we are truly going to Grow Maury County together, then we need to openly talk and discuss about what we want to emphasize in our county. I encourage you to talk with your children, talk with your teachers, and talk with your principals. We are here to help your children be prepared for Life.
Spring Hill Home Page will update this story as more information is made available.
Staff writer Greg Jinkerson covers Spring Hill for Home Page Media Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @springhillhmpg.