Last week, the hard work of educators at Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas, was overshadowed by ignorance. Like dedicated educators across the country, those at Minneha had thoughtfully decorated their school to pique students’ interest in the studies to come. For a fall unit on Islam, this bright bulletin board was on display—temporarily.
This photo, which was posted on Facebook, went viral. It was accompanied by a caption claiming that the school had “banned all forms of Christian prayer.” That’s not true, but that detail is not as important as the larger embracing of ignorance that it conveys. When a responsible citizen sees something in a public school that he or she does not like, what’s a reasonable reaction? Is it acceptable to post a photo online without making any effort to learn about the context and without any regard for how the ensuing debate may affect students? Are such actions really something other responsible citizens should reward by showering them with attention?
Minneha’s curriculum is based on the Core Knowledge Sequence (which is a preschool through eighth grade outline of essential knowledge). As anyone who takes 30 minutes to skim the Sequence knows, any curriculum based on the Sequence will provide a well-rounded, historical examination of all five major world religions. Just as our nation’s founders intended, the Sequence also explores the centrality of religious tolerance to a strong, well-functioning, democratic society.
Minneha and the Wichita Public Schools are to be congratulated for offering an excellent response to the brouhaha:
Religion is an important component of the history of civilizations. Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet students cover the five major religions of the world—Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam—as part of their Core Knowledge magnet curriculum. The students study civilizations throughout time, throughout the world, and cover religion with a focus on the history and geography in the development of civilizations.
The bulletin board that originally caused the concern does represent the 5 Pillars of Islam—in a historical context of their studies. There is also a painting of the Last Supper hanging in the school as part of the study of art and the Renaissance period. The students at Minneha have received these lessons for years as part of their Core Knowledge curriculum. A photo taken of a bulletin board without context is misleading, and some have taken it out of context without having all the information. Because of the misunderstanding that has been promoted by that one photograph, the bulletin board has been taken down until the unit is taught later this fall.
Minneha is a Core Knowledge magnet school. As a school of choice, more than 60 percent of Minneha’s students apply for admission to the school in order to receive the Core Knowledge education that is the foundation of the school. As part of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is overseen by a national foundation devoted to Core Knowledge education, children are introduced in the early grades to major world religions, beginning with a focus on geography and major symbols and figures. In the fourth grade the focus is on history, geography and the development of civilization. The purpose is not to explore the matters of theology, but to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history. The Core Knowledge goal is to familiarize, not proselytize; to be descriptive, not prescriptive.
The heart of this matter is not one’s values or beliefs—it is a simple recognition that human history can’t be taught without devoting significant time to studying religion. One might even consider the five major world religions to be five pillars of an excellent history education.
Let’s take a closer look at how religion is covered in the Sequence. We can see the intent and progression of the study of religion just by looking at how religious content is framed. The following guidance is provided for early grades teachers:
Teachers: Since religion is a shaping force in the story of civilization, the Core Knowledge Sequence introduces children in the early grades to major world religions, beginning with a focus on geography and major symbols and figures. The purpose is not to explore matters of theology but to provide a basic vocabulary for understanding many events and ideas in history. The goal is to familiarize, not proselytize; to be descriptive, not prescriptive. The tone should be one of respect and balance: no religion should be disparaged by implying that it is a thing of the past. To the question, “Which one is true?” an appropriate response is: “People of different faiths believe different things to be true. The best people to guide you on this right now are your parents or someone at home.”
In fourth grade, the studies remain historical, but become more in-depth, so similar guidance is offered:
Teachers: Since religion is a shaping force in the story of civilization, the Core Knowledge Sequence introduces children in the early grades to major world religions, beginning with a focus on geography and major symbols and figures. In the fourth grade the focus is on history, geography, and the development of a civilization. The purpose is not to explore matters of theology but to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history. The goal is to familiarize, not proselytize; to be descriptive, not prescriptive. The tone should be one of respect and balance: no religion should be disparaged by implying that it is a thing of the past.
In sixth grade, building historical knowledge is still the primary goal, but the study becomes more analytical:
Teachers: The World History guidelines for sixth grade begin with a study of ancient civilizations introduced in earlier grades in the Core Knowledge Sequence. Topics include Judaism, Christianity, and the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. The focus in sixth grade should be on the legacy of enduring ideas from these civilizations—ideas about democracy and government, for example, or about right and wrong. After this study of lasting ideas from ancient civilizations, the World History guidelines pick up the chronological thread from earlier grades with a study of the Enlightenment. You are encouraged to use timelines and engage students in a brief review of some major intervening events in order to help students make a smooth transition across the gap in centuries between the ancient civilizations and the Enlightenment.
The following excerpts from the Sequence show the primary examinations of the major world religions. (For a comprehensive look, see the Sequence itself, which can be downloaded for free.)
Excerpts from Pages 34-35: Grade 1
World History and Geography
II. Early World Civilizations
- Belief in one God
- Story of the Exodus: Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt
- Israel, Chanukah, Star of David, Torah, synagogue
- Christianity grew out of Judaism
- Jesus, meaning of “messiah”
- Christmas and Easter, symbol of the cross
- Originated in Arabia, since spread worldwide
- Followers are called Muslims
- Allah, Muhammad, Makkah, Qur’an, mosque
- Symbol of crescent and star (found on the flags of many mainly Islamic nations)
Excerpts from Pages 61-67: Grade 2
World History and Geography
II. Early Asian Civilizations
- Indus River and Ganges River
- Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva
- Many holy books, including the Rig Veda
- Prince Siddhartha becomes Buddha, “the Enlightened One”
- Buddhism begins as an outgrowth of Hinduism in India, and then spreads through many countries in Asia.
- King Asoka (also spelled Ashoka)
See also Visual Arts 2: Architecture: Great Stupa, re Buddhism.
Excerpts from Pages 84-87: Grade 3
World History and Geography
II. The Ancient Roman Civilization
- Define B.C. / A.D. and B.C.E. / C.E.
- The legend of Romulus and Remus
- Latin as the language of Rome
- Worship of gods and goddesses, largely based on Greek religion
- The Republic: Senate, Patricians, Plebeians
- Punic Wars: Carthage, Hannibal
C. The Empire
- Julius Caesar
- Defeats Pompey in civil war, becomes dictator
- “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)
- Cleopatra of Egypt
- Caesar assassinated in the Senate, Brutus
- Augustus Caesar
- Life in the Roman Empire
- The Forum: temples, marketplaces, etc.
- The Colosseum: circuses, gladiator combat, chariot races
- Roads, bridges, and aqueducts
- Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, destruction of Pompeii
- Persecution of Christians
E. The Eastern Roman Empire: Byzantine Civilization
- The rise of the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire
- Constantine, emperor who made Christianity the official religion of Rome
- Constantinople (now called Istanbul) merges diverse influences and cultures.
- Justinian, Justinian’s Code
American History and Geography
III. The Thirteen Colonies: Life and Times Before the Revolution
C. New England Colonies
- New England colonies: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island
- Gradual development of maritime economy: fishing and shipbuilding
- Colonists seeking religious freedom: in England, an official “established” church (the Church of England), which did not allow people to worship as they chose
- The Pilgrims
- From England to Holland to Massachusetts
- 1620: Voyage of the Mayflower
- Significance of the Mayflower Compact
- Plymouth, William Bradford
- Helped by Wampanoag Indians: Massasoit, Tisquantum (Squanto)
- The Puritans
- Massachusetts Bay Colony, Governor John Winthrop: “We shall be as a city upon a hill.”
- Emphasis on reading and education, the New England Primer
- Rhode Island
- Roger Williams: belief in religious toleration
- Anne Hutchinson
Excerpts from Pages 106-115: Grade 4
World History and Geography
II. Europe in the Middle Ages
C. Developments in History of the Christian Church
- Growing power of the pope (Bishop of Rome)
- Arguments among Christians: split into Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church
- Conversion of many Germanic peoples to Christianity
- Rise of monasteries, preservation of classical learning
- Temporarily unites the western Roman Empire
- Crowned Emperor by the pope in a.d. 800, the idea of a united “Holy Roman Empire”
- Charlemagne’s love and encouragement of learning
See also Visual Arts 4: Art of the Middle Ages in Europe: Medieval Madonnas and Gothic architecture. And see Music 4, Gregorian chant.
III. The Spread of Islam and the “Holy Wars”
- Muhammad: the last prophet
- Allah, Qur’an, jihad
- Sacred city of Makkah, mosques
- “Five pillars” of Islam:
- Declaration of faith
- Prayer (five times daily), facing toward Makkah
- Fasting during Ramadan
- Help the needy
- Pilgrimage to Makkah
- Arab peoples unite to spread Islam in northern Africa, through the eastern Roman empire, and as far west as Spain.
- Islamic Turks conquer region around the Mediterranean; in 1453, Constantinople becomes Istanbul.
- The first Muslims were Arabs, but today diverse people around the world are Muslims.
B. Development of Islamic Civilization
- Contributions to science and mathematics: Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Arabic numerals
- Muslim scholars translate and preserve writings of Greeks and Romans
- Thriving cities as centers of Islamic art and learning, such as Cordoba (Spain)
C. Wars Between Muslims and Christians
- The Holy Land, Jerusalem
- The Crusades
- Saladin and Richard the Lion-Hearted
- Growing trade and cultural exchange between east and west
I. Art of the Middle Ages in Europe
Teachers: Study of the following works of art may be integrated with study of related topics in fourth grade World History: Europe in the Middle Ages.
- Note the generally religious nature of European art in the Middle Ages, including Examples of medieval Madonnas (such as Madonna and Child on a Curved Throne—13th century Byzantine)
- Illuminated manuscripts (such as The Book of Kells)
- Tapestries (such as the Unicorn tapestries)
- Become familiar with features of Gothic architecture (spires, pointed arches, flying buttresses, rose windows, gargoyles and statues) and famous cathedrals, including Notre Dame (Paris).
II. Islamic Art and Architecture
Teachers: Study of the following works of art may be integrated with study of related topics in fourth grade World history: The Spread of Islam.
- Become familiar with examples of Islamic art, including illuminated manuscript and illumination of the Qur’an (Koran).
- Note characteristic features of Islamic architecture, such as domes and minarets, in Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar), Jerusalem
- Alhambra Palace, Spain
- Taj Mahal, India
Excerpts from Pages 130-137: Grade 5
World History and Geography
IV. The Renaissance and the Reformation
A. The Renaissance
- Islamic scholars translate Greek works and so help preserve classical civilization.
- A “rebirth” of ideas from ancient Greece and Rome
- New trade and new wealth
- Italian city states: Venice, Florence, Rome
- Patrons of the arts and learning
- The Medici Family and Florence
- The Popes and Rome
- Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo
- Renaissance ideals and values as embodied in
- The Courtier by Castiglione: the “Renaissance man”
- The Prince by Machiavelli: real-world politics
B. The Reformation
- Gutenberg’s printing press: the Bible made widely available
- The Protestant Reformation
- Martin Luther and the 95 Theses
- John Calvin
- The Counter-Reformation
- Copernicus and Galileo: Conflicts between science and the church
- Ptolemaic (earth-centered) vs. sun-centered models of the universe
I. Art of the Renaissance
Teachers: Study of the following artists and works of art may be integrated with study of related topics in World History 5: The Renaissance.
- The shift in world view from medieval to Renaissance art, a new emphasis on humanity and the natural world
- The influence of Greek and Roman art on Renaissance artists (classical subject matter, idealization of human form, balance and proportion)
- The development of linear perspective during the Italian Renaissance
- The vantage point or point-of-view of the viewer
- Convergence of lines toward a vanishing point, the horizon line
- Observe and discuss works in different genres—such as portrait, fresco, Madonna—by Italian Renaissance artists, including
- Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus
- Leonardo da Vinci: The Proportions of Man, Mona Lisa, The Last Supper
- Michelangelo, Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, especially the detail known as The Creation of Adam
- Raphael: The Marriage of the Virgin, examples of his Madonnas (such as Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John, The Alba Madonna, or The Small Cowper Madonna)
- Become familiar with Renaissance sculpture, including
- Donatello, Saint George
- Michelangelo, David
- Become familiar with Renaissance architecture, including
- The Florence Cathedral, dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi
- St. Peter’s in Rome
- Observe and discuss paintings of the Northern Renaissance, including
- Pieter Bruegel, Peasant Wedding
- Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait (such as from 1498 or 1500)
- Jan van Eyck, Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife (also known as Arnolfini Wedding)
Excerpts from Pages 153-160: Grade 6
World History and Geography
II. Lasting Ideas from Ancient Civilizations
A. Judaism and Christianity
- Basic ideas in common
- The nature of God and of humanity
- Hebrew Bible and Old Testament of Christian Bible
- Judaism: central ideas and moral teachings
- Torah, monotheism
- The idea of a “covenant” between God and man
- Concepts of law, justice, and social responsibility: the Ten Commandments
- Christianity: central ideas and moral teachings
- New Testament
- The Sermon on the Mount and the two “great commandments” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
- Geography of the Middle East
- Birthplace of major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam
- Anatolian Peninsula, Arabian Peninsula
- Mesopotamia, Tigris and Euphrates Rivers
- Atlas Mountains, Taurus Mountains
- Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Black Sea, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf
- The “silk road”
- Climate and terrain: vast deserts (Sahara, Arabian)
I hope these excerpts provide some much-needed context. Many thanks to Minneha and all the other Core Knowledge schools committed to ensuring that knowledge triumphs over ignorance.