Saturday, June 28, 2008

Teaching About Islam in Public Schools: The Friendswood Incident

The Houston controversy about an incident at Friendswood Junior High where the principal Robin Lowe allowed a special event to take place to teach students about Islam has taken a new turn. Ms. Lowe responded to an incident in her school when a Muslim student was dumped head first into a trash can by holding a forum in the gym to teach students about the rudimentaries of Islam. Enough parents went berserk that she was removed from her position and put into central administration. I wrote earlier about this incident and my views about religious illiteracy in America. The blog entry is HERE <<<

Well today the Houston Chronicle reported that Ms. Lowe has taken a new job as principal of Pershing Junior High in Houston, which just happens to be the Junior High that my son is zoned to once he finishes grade school. I couldn't be more thrilled to think that we in this area of Houston got so lucky to have this forward-thinking woman as the principal of our school.

At the same time I am appalled at the response of David Welch, the executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, who was the one who called for her ouster as principal of Friendswood in the first place. It is reported in the newspaper that he said, "While we are encouraged that she's no longer the principal at Friendswood Junior High, we hope that she has learned from this experience and will be cautious and follow school policies appropriately this time." To remove her from her job, he used the argument that she didn't notify parents before the event so that they could remove their children. Was this used as an excuse by a Christian constituency to control public education for what they understand to be their own benefit?

For the record, Ms. Lowe did not break any school policies. Texas State law does not require written parental permission or notification before potentially controversial lessons. I completely support what she did, and I hope that she learned form this just how important it is to educate our youth about other religions. Please keep it up!


Leon said...

Three cheers for Robin Lowe. I hope she remains as brave in her new post. And I hope she gets more support there. You are lucky to have her. said...

Well yes why not? But would they be taught that non-muslim citizens of Islamic states do not have the same rights as muslim citizens? Indeed the former are worse than second class. I can understand the fear of parents concerned about the possible brainwashing of their children into Islam - a religion which poses an ever increasing threat to western society.

A one-off special event was a knee-jerk reaction. Her priority was to deal with the culprits. Then possibly she could have held wider consultations.

Jim Deardorff said...

We certainly need continued attempts to bring about religious pluralism, so that we can understand one another's religion and even hold friendly debates over the differences.

To do it right, however, I believe one must be willing to be as critical of one's own religion as of another's (re that mote in one's eye). This would be in the spirit of seeking and finding the (real) truth, and giving that higher priority than maintaining one's own faith. Sadly, that is not in the cards, as each major religion inculcates the belief in its followers that to doubt the validity of one's own religion is the most grievous of sins.

Judy Redman said...

Geoff, in my experience, most Muslims who choose to live in western countries do so because they don't like the repressive ways in which Islam is enacted in Muslim states.

In addition, anyone who thinks that one forum on the rudiments of Islam could "brainwash their children into Islam" has an amazingly high opinion of the power of Islam and is pretty unimpressed by the power of truth that resides in their own religion as well. My own experience of learning more about other religions has been that it has reinforced for me why I am Christian, at the same time as it has increased my respect for those who practise the other religions. said...

Judy, how do you teach children a 'balanced' view of anything as complicated as a religion? Rudiments are never sufficient. A little knowledge can be dangerous. In any case, do you at the same time teach children about all the alternatives? You might just about squeeze in some mathematics.

Talking about personal experiences, when I drive through Leicester, a few miles from my home, I could sometimes imagine myself in Pakistan or India. More than 50% of the population of Leicester is of Asian origin. I have no doubt that the UK has let the Trojan horses in and will reap the whirlwind in the not too distant future. We could see Baghdad in the UK. And with Asian populations on this level, ideologies could be imposed entirely legally. Mohammed has come to the mountain. said...

Hey Judy, do you see this kind of of news on a regular basis?

One guess what the religion of the residents is. Australia and the US need to wake-up.

Judy Redman said...

Geoff, I'm afraid your link didn't work, so I'm not sure what you're referring to.

I've worked in universities for a long time and I lived in one of Australia's most multicultural cities for quite a while as well. I have lots of dealings with people who practice all sorts of religions in all sorts of ways. Each of them, including Christianity, seem to have their fair share of fundamentalist nutters and a whole lot of people who are far more moderate. Every so often some local Christian group will exorcise someone to death. People have made death threats against the leaders of my denomination in the name of Christ. Given a choice between people like this and moderate Muslims, I think I'd rather the Muslims. And perhaps I can add that what has turned my daughter off Christianity has been a combination of the behaviour of our local congregation and religious education classes first at her state primary school and then at the church high school. She knows quite a bit about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism from her Studies in Religion classes and a bit from meeting people who practise these religions in our home but is showing no signs of converting to any of them although she is quite taken by the elephant god in Hinduism. Our son is fundamentally Christian, but also off church as a result of our local congregation. said...

Judy, I copied the link from here to my computer and it worked fine. It was a BBC news item dated 1 July 2008. The text in bold is as follows:

House raids under Terrorism Act

Staffordshire Police have called for help from the community
Police have raided five homes in Stoke-on-Trent under the Terrorism Act.

The raids were part of an investigation into a "small group of people" suspected of being involved in promoting violent extremist views.

No-one has been arrested following searches in the Cobridge, Burslem and Tunstall areas of the city.

Staffordshire Police said the operation posed no direct risk to public safety and they have called on the local community to remain vigilant.


Officers searched three houses in Cobridge, one in Burslem and one in Tunstall earlier, and said they would continue searching four of the five houses during the afternoon.

Staffordshire Police said they had acted on the community's concerns and said the raids were the "latest stage" of an investigation into a small group of people suspected of "radicalising vulnerable community members".

Ch Supt Jane Sawyers, divisional commander for Stoke-on-Trent, said neighbourhood officers were out in force to reassure the community.

She said community leaders had been fully briefed on the operation and called on local people to work together with police to tackle extremism.

"We can only tackle the real and serious threat posed to us all by violent extremism if we all work together," she said.

You may note that the BBC is reticent to describe the residents or 'the community' as Muslims, perhaps preferring to reserve the term for those who aspire to peaceful means, but more likely, the BBC was afraid of a reaction. If this was a one-off event, it would not be so bad. But we regularly see similar news items.

Your children are in the fortunate position of having yourself to discuss issues related to religion. Many parents are incapable of giving such support, and their children are more vulnerable.

I have six children, four daughters and two sons, all grown-up. Two daughters are Christians, as is my wife. She takes a bimonthly magazine called 'barnabas aid' that gives some pretty hair-raisng descriptions of what life is like for persecuted Christians in various countries. In particular the magazine has attempted in a sequence of pull-outs, as it states: "to provide background information for Christians seeking to understand the nature of Islam and its contemporary expression. One aspect of this relates to understanding the reason for the oppression and persecution of Christians in various Islamic parts of the world, and and another to the growing challenge which Islam poses to Western society, culture and Church." And many of the 'reasons' the magazine gives involve the Muslim's own writings and public declarations.

One of my sons works as a consultant in business management software. Yesterday he described to me what it was like working in a team with Muslims compared to Hindus. He said something to the effect, "Both will do their job properly in a civil manner, but a Muslim will just take the money and never become your friend." I said, "You mean they want to keep you at arms length?" "Yes", he said.

paulf said...

Wow Geoff, we gotta' keep our kids away from all those scary brown people.

So you think teaching chldren basics of another person's religious belief somehow makes the person taught susceptible to being a terrorist or something? Does reading the Hebrew Bible make me want to go out and murder some pagan priests?

That's seriously insane.

You've just discredited every thing you have ever said or will say in this site. And while your opinion would not be out of the ordinary on some web sites, I'm sure, it is shocking that someone would own up to such views on an academic site about ancient gospels.

And hey, I live in the suburbs of Manhattan, an area way more diverse than anywhere in the UK, whatever that means. But our personal experiences are not the issue.

José Solano said...

Having just spent some time in London (enjoying the British Museum, etc.) I can assure you that it is as diverse or even more than Manhattan where I grew up. The Muslim population is particularly large and apparently quite peaceful.

Richard said...

I'm with Judy on this: ... anyone who thinks that one forum on the rudiments of Islam could "brainwash their children into Islam" has an amazingly high opinion of the power of Islam and is pretty unimpressed by the power of truth that resides in their own religion ...

This really applies to pretty much anything, true knowledge is power, ignorance a prison (or, more likely, angry mobs with flaming torches and pitchforks). said...

The 50 most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian?

Would the children be taught that the majority religion in six of the top ten is Islam? Two of those, Iran and Saudi Arabia are ruled by Sharia law. Very recently, the most senior judge in the UK said, in effect, that some legal disputes between UK Muslims could be decided by Sharia law. He was speaking in support of Rowan Williams the Archbishop of Canterbury who earlier this year had suggested that aspects of Sharia law should be adopted in Britain. So it could be one law for them and another law for everyone else. This is multiculturalism gone mad, led by an Archbishop and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips.

paulf said...

Geoff, the issue isn't whether some muslims are bad. The question is whether there is anything wrong with teaching basics of their faith in school.

You seem to think that teaching facts about various faiths poses a threat to turn children into extremists of one of those faiths. There is absolutely no evidence that such a thing could happen, so the only argument against it is bigotry.