Curriculum vs. Kumbaya

by Robert Pondiscio
February 27th, 2009

If you want to promote tolerance and respect for Muslim students, perhaps teaching children something about Islam might help.  Teachers College has come out with a guide for teachers “designed to enhance understanding of Islam and promote tolerance of Muslim students.”  But EdWeek’s Mary Ann Zehr points out the guide ”gives only tangential treatment to religion in favor of focusing on the culture and identity of Muslims.”

The guide doesn’t discuss, for example, the five pillars of Islam, the significance of Ramadan, or the differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.  One of the most direct references to religion that I could find is a link to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life about the beliefs and practices of Muslims (search by “tradition”). But that survey tells you about as much about Islam as a religion as a survey of the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholics  in the United States tells you about Catholicism.

In contrast, the Core Knowledge Sequence introduces major world religions in the first grade.  In the fourth grade, the spread of Islam is examined along with Islamic art.  One of the lessons in the TC cycle asks students to examine and evaluate depictions of Muslims and Islam in the media.  Great idea.  Hard to do if you’re coming to the subject cold.  “There are still entrenched suspicions and profound misconceptions about Islam and Muslim culture,” the TC guide notes.  And there will continue to be unless you actually teach the subject.


  1. Why are the government-run schools promoting *ANY* religion? I have no problem with including a discussion of Islam from a historical standpoint, but teaching “tolerance” towards Muslims is not a legitimate academic goal. Students should obviously be expected to treat each other with respect and civility at all times. But no one particular group should be singled out for propaganda.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — February 27, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

  2. FYI: all California 7th graders are SUPPOSED to learn about the origins of Islam and the golden age of Islamic civilization. What actually occurs in most classrooms is anyone’s guess. I try to make it a meaty unit by supplementing the textbook’s thin gruel. I fear that many kids only get an anemic, textbook-only unit, if that. I hear stories about combo English/history classes where history gets short shrift and many prescribed units never get taught. This is one reason I think it’s a bad idea to combine English and history into “core” class the way most California middle schools seem to do.

    Comment by Ben F — February 27, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

  3. Good title for the post. (I had to click to see what was up!)

    My fourth grader is not studying Islamic art but going over and over editing worksheets for the upcoming state tests. Big sigh…

    Comment by Susan — February 28, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  4. The same loss of content happened when geography and history were combined into social studies.

    Comment by momof4 — February 28, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

  5. Promoting tolerance for Islam should not be done in school; it is propaganda, not education. Some schools/districts have given Muslim students accommodations which are not extended to Christians or Jews, which is plainly unconstitutional. Everyone should be expected to treat others politely, but that’s it. No one has the right never to be offended.

    Comment by Anonymous — February 28, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

  6. That’s interesting to hear that world religions are introduced as early as the first grade in the Core Knowledge Sequence. Personally, I learned most of what I know about Islam on the job as a journalist. It would have been nice to have some background before I became an adult. Mary Ann Zehr
    Curriculum Matters

    Comment by Mary Ann Zehr — March 2, 2009 @ 10:25 am

  7. Because religion has been such a central force in shaping the development of civilizations, Core Knowledge introduces children in the early grades to major world religions for the purpose of providing a basic vocabulary for understanding many events and ideas in history. The goal is to familiarize children with major ideas in world history, it is not to proselytize. The tone should be one of respect and balance when teaching these topics. Should questions about truth and rightness come up in discussion, an appropriate answer is: People of different faiths believe different things to be true. The best people to guide you right now are the adults at home.

    We advise CK teachers to inform parents and caregivers in advance of covering these topics so they understand that teachers are teaching facts and not preaching; the curriculum in first grade focuses on teaching children the similarities and differences among religions and fostering an understanding and respect for those similarities and differences.

    Children need to have a basic understanding of religion in order to make sense of historical events covered in fourth grade. You can’t talk about the Middle Ages without discussion the importance of the Christian Church. You can’t teach about the Crusades without talking the development of Islam.

    Religion has often been at the base of significant ideas and events in world history and it must be taught.

    Comment by Souzanne A. Wright — March 2, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

  8. I think it is awesome that your lesson plan tells fourth graders that Judaism is one of the “three major religions in the world.” Hilarious.

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — March 3, 2009 @ 11:14 am

  9. I agree with SA Wright about the importance of religion in world history. My previous comment was meant to convey that there is a difference between teaching content knowledge relating to a religion (or anything else) and promoting tolerance toward its practitioners. The former is education; the latter is propaganda.

    Comment by momof4 — March 3, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  10. In response to Crimson Wife…Schools (and Core Knowledge) are NOT promoting a religion by teaching about it. There is a huge difference between educating students about the FACTS of a religion and trying to promote or convert others to that religion. I am a born-agin Christian and I taught 4th grade, which teaches about the Islamic religion. I never felt this was a contradiction. We need our students to be EDUCATED about different religions, not preached to. This can (and is) done very well by teachers in many Core Knowledge schools I have taught at or visited. Like it or not, you cannot study history without studying religion. As Suzanne Wright stated, how in the world can one teach the Middle Ages without talking about the spread of the Christian Church and the monks who kept learning alive by handcopying the Bible? How can my students ever make sense of the Crusades without knowing about Islam?

    Comment by CK Teacher — March 6, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  11. If it comes from Teachers College, I usually trash it. Afterall, they trashed the WHOLE NYC Public School System with their ridiculous “Leveled Reading program”. They’re out of touch with reality in their ivory academic towers, misleading the masses who think they’re “in the know”. Core Knowledge is practical and logical. What Teacher’s College has done to U.S. Education is criminal.

    Comment by Chrissy D'Amico — March 6, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

  12. I wasn’t criticizing the Core Knowledge sequence treatment of Islam (which appears sufficiently objective in the materials I’ve seen), but rather the quote from Teachers College that schools should promote “tolerance” of Muslims. No, they shouldn’t. Teach about Islam from a historical perspective, yes. Require students to treat each other with respect and civility, absolutely. But not use classtime for propaganda favoring one particular group.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — March 6, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  13. To CK Teacher. If teachers spent as much time on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, etc…, as they do on the Muslim religion that would be fine. But no, not in our school. They talk about the Muslim religion, have announcements about it during Ramadan and other Muslim holidays and discuss what it means. When it comes time to have announcements during the Christian holiday – the birth of Christ – they talk about Santa Clause. Not a single word about Christ or the reason Christians celebrate it. It’s ridiculous!!

    Comment by Texas Mom — March 6, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

  14. In response to Texas mom…I cannot speak to your particular school or teachers, but I was simpky speaking about the Core Knowledge curriculum. Equal time is given to Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. I agree with you that it seems like your school has an unhealthy balance and gives too much time/credence to the Muslim religion, which I don’t think is right. I was simply explaining the Core Knowledge approach to educating about religion.

    Comment by CK Teacher — March 8, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

  15. WEll i would just like to say it is fair to teach tolerance to muslim or even spend a little more time talking about islam at school, i say this because there is definitely more time spent in the media putting islam down with out justification. If this is all anyone ever hears about islam then a person would naturally have some ill feelings towards muslim whether it is a classmate, colleague, or whatever. so in order to establish the “balance” this must be done.

    Comment by anonymous — March 12, 2009 @ 3:18 am

  16. Anonymous- so two wrongs make a right? Would you say that schools should try to establish “balance” by using classtime for propaganda for every single target of the media? How about we start with former President George W. Bush…Any takers?

    Comment by Crimson Wife — March 12, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  17. We keep seeing comments here about the necessity of teaching Islam when teaching The Crusades.

    Will you be teaching the truth about the Crusades? Will you teach that the only reason the Crusades happened is that the Christians were tired of decades of Islamic conquest and wholesale slaughter of Christians (at the hands of the Muslims) and they finally fought back? Will you teach that the reason the Muslims continue to slaughter Christians worldwide today is because the Quran and Hadiths command it? Will you really tell the truth or will you whitewash it like most liberal educators are doing today? Will you teach how thousands of churches of all faiths (except Islam are being burned to the ground daily? Will you teach the Islam is the only “religion” that has no concept of the Golden Rule? Will you invite a representative of CAIR (a Hamas affiliate) into the class to “explain” the pillars of Islam?

    Before you “teach” Islam, how about you spend some time studying the global conquest that is still under way today? How about you tell your students that over 270,000,000 people of all faiths have been killed in the name of Islam? How about you tell them that Islamic propaganda is running wild in the West now and that there is a MASSIVE movement to Islamize every area of society – especially the young children of America. Teach the truth. Islam is the most insidious political Trojan Horse (cloaked in a thin veil of “religion) ever to exist on the face of the earth. Teach how America has changed just since the Islamic population has reached less than 1%. Teach how America has already become a police state BECAUSE of Islam. Remember how it used to be? No draconian banking laws, no lines at the airport, no suicide bombings, no military mass murders, no drones in our skies, no 24/7 surveillance, no Muslim marches on the capitals, no angry parents over Islamic school proselytizing, no special Muslim only prayer rooms or foot baths in schools or demands for halal food in school or shakedowns of employers over headscarves and on and on. ISLAM NEVER STOPS THE DEMANDS. FACT: Every society on the face of the earth where Islam has entered has eventually would up 98% Muslim. Why? They eliminate and intimidate the population until they give up or leave.

    Wake up, people. Muslims are less than 1% of the population of America and all you hear 24/7 is Islam, Islam, Islam. What do you think it is going to look like at 10%? Look at France and the UK and you will see it clear as day.


    Tolerance of the intolerant is NOT tolerance but SUICIDE – as every society Islam has ever entered has found out.

    DO SOME RESEARCH!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Freedom Advocate — March 21, 2013 @ 1:13 am

  18. There are the 600 or so Islamic schools in America teaching about 50,000 students reading writing, arithmetic, and jihad. One example is the Islamic Academy of Florida in Tampa, Florida. In 2003, they received $350,000 of taxpayer-funded vouchers. In the same year, a federal grand jury in Tampa issued a 50 count indictment against the academy for being an affiliate of and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is HQ in the ME and targets Israeli civilians with suicide bombings.
    In charge of the fund-raising was was the PIJ’s former chairman Sami-al Arian, Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, longtime leader of the PIJ, and the academy’s former director, Mazen al-Najjar, (both deported from the US on separate terrorism-related charges.
    At least as bad, is the school is owned by NAIT (North Atlantic Islamic Trust), a key Muslim Brotherhood front organization, as defined by the US Justice Dept., which manages the assets of th4e most dangerous and treacherous mosques in America, and was named by the US Justice Dept as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Hamas-funding Holy Land Foundation trial, which sent 5 leaders of that former Brotherhood group to prison for the rest of their lives, were they now rot.
    More than $350,000 of the school’s vouchers were revoked, after the indictments were handed down.

    Amazingly, in the same year, right next door to the notorious IAF, another Islamic school opened up (lot of many these dudes have). The was the American Youth Academy. The AYA was actually a replacement of the IAF, sharing the same desks, books, teachers, and even telephone #. In 2005, despite all this, 325,000 of taxpayer money went to AYA. In addition, $2500 wen to them for each kid enrolled in their pre-kindergarten. Pheeeeeeeww!!

    These are prime examples of Muslim terrorists operating right under our noses, dancing around the law with skillful lawyers, and getting away with it. Maybe we might want to scrutinize these hundreds of Islamic schools across the country, a little closer ? You think ?

    Out on the West Coast, same stuff. The New Horizons School in Pasadena, CA, another Islamic private school won a blue ribbon award for excellence from the US Dept of Education. Excellence in what ? The Bureau of Islamic and Arabic Education which developed the school’s program has on it’s website a new twist to the US pledge of allegiance. It says “As an American Muslim, I pledge allegiance to Allah and his Prophet,”
    The initiator and architect of all the New Horizon Schools in North America is none other than the nucleus group of the Muslim brotherhood in America, ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) also named by the US govt. as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation. ISNA, affiliated with terrorist groups abroad and domestic, has also invited Islamic radical extremists to speak at their events.

    The leader of the Islamic Center of Southern California, Imam Muzzmil Siddiqui (who also helped develop the New Horizon curriculum), gives sermons emphasizing the importance of Da’wa (an Islamic
    tradition of converting non-Muslims to Islam). Da’wa is high priority in the Muslim Brotherhood plan to destroy and eliminate Western Civilization, and replace it with an Islamic state. On the wesite, there is a section called “How to Make America an Islamic Nation”. Another page entitled Da’wa in Public Schools (my emphasis), describes the school environment as “fertile grounds where the seeds of Islam can be sowed inside the hearts of the non-Muslim student.”…dawapublic.asp

    More examples of Dawa going on in public schools are Excelsior Elementary School in Byron, CA where kids are taught to memorize and recite Islamic prayers, adopt Islamic names, fast for a day to experience Ramadan, incorporate Arabic phrases in their speeches (ex. “Allah Akbar”, and wear Middle Eastern clothing.
    Another example ids the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a supposed public school where lesson plans on the varieties of jihad are part of the core curriculum.

    Still more information:

    Comment by Freedom Advocate — March 21, 2013 @ 1:29 am

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