Islam in America's public schools: Education or indoctrination?
by Cinnamon Stillwell
SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle online)
June 11, 2008
With fatal terrorist attacks on the decline worldwide and al Qaeda apparently in disarray, it would seem a time for optimism in the global war on terrorism. But the war has simply shifted to a different arena. Islamists, or those who believe that Islam is a political and religious system that must dominate all others, are focusing less on the military and more on the ideological. It turns out that Western liberal democracies can be subverted without firing a shot.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the educational realm. Islamists have taken what's come to be known as the "soft jihad" into America's classrooms and children in K-12 are the first casualties. Whether it is textbooks, curriculum, classroom exercises, film screenings, speakers or teacher training, public education in America is under assault.
Capitalizing on the post-9/11 demand for Arabic instruction, some public, charter and voucher-funded private schools are inappropriately using taxpayer dollars to implement a religious curriculum. They are also bringing in outside speakers with Islamist ties or sympathies. As a result, not only are children receiving a biased education, but possible violations of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause abound. Consider the following cases:
- Last month, students at Friendswood Junior High in Houston were required to attend an "Islamic Awareness" presentation during class time allotted for physical education. The presentation involved two representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization with a record of Islamist statements and terrorism convictions. According to students, they were taught that "there is one God, his name is Allah" and that "Adam, Noah and Jesus are prophets." Students were also taught about the Five Pillars of Islam and how to pray five times a day and wear Islamic religious garb. Parents were not notified about the presentation and it wasn't until a number of complaints arose that school officials responded with an apologetic e-mail.
- Earlier this year at Lake Brantley High School in Seminole County, Fla., speakers from the Academy for Learning Islam gave a presentation to students about "cultural diversity" that extended to a detailed discussion of the Quran and Islam. The school neither screened the ALI speakers nor notified parents. After a number of complaints, local media coverage and a subsequent investigation, the school district apologized for the inappropriate presentation, admitting that it violated the law. Subsequently, ALI was removed from the Seminole County school system's Dividends and Speaker's Bureau.
- As reported by the Cabinet Press, a school project last year at Amherst Middle School transformed "the quaint colonial town of Amherst, N.H., into a Saudi Arabian Bedouin tent community." Male and female students were segregated, with the girls hosting "hijab and veil stations" and handing out the oppressive head-to-toe black garment known as the abaya to female guests. Meanwhile, the boys hosted food and Arabic dancing stations because, as explained in the article, "the traditions of Saudi Arabia at this time prevent women from participating in these public roles." An "Islamic religion station" offered up a prayer rug, verses from the Quran, prayer items and a compass pointed towards Mecca. The fact that female subjugation was presented as a benign cultural practice and Islamic religious rituals were promoted with public funds is cause for concern.
- Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a charter school in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., came under recent scrutiny after Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten brought to light concerns about public funding for its overtly religious curriculum. The school is housed in the Muslim American Society's (the American branch of the Egyptian Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood) Minnesota building, alongside a mosque, and the daily routine includes prayer, ritual washing, halal food preparation and an after-school "Islamic studies" program. Kersten's columns prompted the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to issue a press release expressing its own reservations about potential First Amendment violations. An investigation initiated by the Minnesota Department of Education verified several of Kersten's allegations and the school has since promised to make the appropriate changes. In a bizarre twist, when a local television news crew tried to report on the findings from school grounds, school officials confronted them and wrestled a camera away from one of its photographers, injuring him in the process.
- The controversy surrounding the founding of New York City's Arabic language public school, Khalil Gibran International Academy, last year continues. Former principal Dhabah "Debbie" Almontaser was asked to step down after publicly defending T-shirts produced by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, an organization with whom she shared office space, emblazoned with "Intifada NYC." But KGIA has other troublesome associations. Its advisory board includes three imams, one of whom, New York University Imam Khalid Latif, sent a threatening letter to the university's president regarding a planned display of the Danish cartoons. Another, Shamsi Ali, runs the Jamaica Muslim Center Quranic Memorization School in Queens, a replica of the type of Pakistani madrassa (or school) counter-terrorism officials have been warning about since 9/11. Accordingly, several parents founded Stop the Madrassa: A Community Coalition to voice their contention that KGIA is an inappropriate candidate for taxpayer funding.
Equally problematic are the textbooks used in American public schools to teach Islam or Islamic history. Organizations such as Southern California's Council on Islamic Education and Arabic World and Islamic Resources are tasked with screening and editing these textbooks for public school districts, but questions have been raised about the groups' scholarship and ideological agenda. The American Textbook Council, an organization that reviews history and social studies textbooks used in American schools, and its director, Gilbert T. Sewall, have produced a series of articles and reports on Islam textbooks and the findings are damning. They include textbooks that are factually inaccurate, misrepresent and in some cases, glorify Islam, or are hostile to other religions. While teaching students about Islam within a religious studies context may be appropriate, the purpose becomes suspect when the texts involved are compromised in this manner.
Such are the complaints about "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond," a textbook published by the Teachers' Curriculum Institute, to the point where parents in the Scottsdale, Ariz., school district succeeded in having it removed from the curriculum in 2005. TCI is based in Mountain View, and the textbook is now being used in the state's public schools, where similar concerns have arisen. A Marin County mother whose son has been assigned "History Alive!" has been trying to mount an effort to call school officials' attention to the problem. Similarly, a San Luis Obispo mother filed an official complaint several years ago with her son's school authorities over the use of Houghton Mifflin's middle school text, "Across the Centuries," which has been widely criticized for whitewashing Islamic history and glorifying Islam. Its inclusion in the Montgomery County, Md. public school curriculum among other districts across the country, could lead to further objections.
But the forces in opposition are powerful and plenty. They include public education bureaucrats and teachers mired in naivete and political correctness, biased textbook publishers, politicized professors and other experts tasked with helping states approve textbooks, and at the top of the heap, billions of dollars in Saudi funding. These funds are pouring into the coffers of various organs that design K-12 curricula. The resultant material, not coincidentally, turns out to be inaccurate, biased and, considering the Wahhabist strain of Islam promulgated by Saudi Arabia, dangerous. And again, taxpayer dollars are involved. National Review Online contributing editor Stanley Kurtz explains :
"The United States government gives money — and a federal seal of approval — to a university Middle East Studies center. That center offers a government-approved K-12 Middle East studies curriculum to America's teachers. But in fact, that curriculum has been bought and paid for by the Saudis, who may even have trained the personnel who operate the university's outreach program. Meanwhile, the American government is asleep at the wheel — paying scant attention to how its federally mandated public outreach programs actually work. So without ever realizing it, America's taxpayers end up subsidizing — and providing official federal approval for — K-12 educational materials on the Middle East that have been created under Saudi auspices. Game, set, match: Saudis."
Along with funding textbooks and curricula, the Saudis are also involved in funding and designing training for public school teachers. The Saudi funded Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University now offers professional development workshops for K-12 teachers. The workshops take place at the hosting institution and provide teachers with classroom material. They are free of charge and ACMCU throws in lunch to boot.
But this generosity likely comes with a catch, for the center is known for producing scholars and material with a decidedly apologist bent, both toward the Saudi Royal Family and Islamic radicalism. It's no accident that ACMCU education consultant Susan Douglass, according to her bio, has been "an affiliated scholar" with the Council on Islamic Education "for over a decade." Douglass also taught social studies at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax, Va., where her husband still teaches. ISA has come under investigation for Saudi-provided textbooks and curriculum that some have alleged promotes hatred and intolerance towards non-Muslims. That someone with Douglass' problematic associations would be in charge of training public school teachers hardly inspires confidence in the system.
While groups such as People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU express outrage at any semblance of Christianity in America's public schools, very little clamor has met the emergence of Islam in the same arena. An occasional press release, such as the one put out by the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU regarding TIZA, will surface, but by and large, the arbiters of separation of church and state or in this case, mosque and state, have gone silent. The same can largely be said for the federal government and, in particular, the State Department. No doubt, Saudi dollars and influence are part of the problem.
Probably the single greatest weapon in the arsenal of those trying to fight the misuse of America's public schools is community involvement. As noted previously, a number of parental coalitions have sprung up across the country in an effort to protect their own children from indoctrination. The Stop the Madrassa Coalition has expanded its efforts beyond New York City by working on policy ideas for legislation and meeting privately with members of Congress. Also providing hope are Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), whose 10-point "Wake Up America" agenda includes a call to reform Saudi-provided textbooks, and the bipartisan Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus she co-chairs. Its focus on "jihadist ideology" demonstrates an all-too-rare governmental understanding of the nature of the current conflict.
The power to educate the next generation is an inestimable one and a free society cedes control at its peril. The days of the "silent majority" are no longer tenable in the face of a determined and clever enemy. The battle of ideas must be joined.
Cinnamon Stillwell is a San Francisco writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also writes for the blog at campus-watch.org.