A middle school curriculum mandating the study of Islam in Tennessee classrooms is raising concern among many parents across the state including here at home. Up to this point education officials have given few details on the topic, and one east Tennessee parent who has researched the issue is asking why is there “so much mystery into this curriculum.”
Close to 100 people filled a meeting room of the county complex in Smithville Friday night to hear Craig Honeycutt of Bristol, who for the last fifteen months has been traveling the state speaking on behalf of Parents Against Islamic Religion in Schools. Friday night's audience in Smithville included concerned local residents, ministers, and teachers in our school system.
(CLICK THE PLAY BUTTON BELOW TO HEAR THE ENTIRE MEETING FRIDAY NIGHT IN SMITHVILLE. IT RUNS 1 HOUR AND 22 MINUTES)
The state's standards for 7th Grade Social Studies require every student on that grade level to learn about Islam. They are then tested on it during standardized exams. Christianity is taught in the sixth grade.
Honeycutt, whose daughter is a 7th-grade student in the Bristol City Schools system, said he grew concerned over the standards when he learned she would spend four weeks studying the Islamic world. “Why do we need to give Islam four weeks?,” Honeycutt said. “If you want to teach a few days of Islam in a historic aspect, I’m fine with that. What you’re going to find ... is anything but historic. It’s indoctrination, it’s religion, it’s theology, it’s philosophy, (and) it’s how to convert.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Education website, during those four weeks — which are included in the literacy in social studies subsection of the Tennessee state standards — “students analyze the geographic, political, economic, social, and religious structures of the (Islamic) civilizations.”
In his daughter's middle school, Honeycutt said students have made the digital conversion from textbooks to laptops. "Every keystroke, everything they do is chronologically logged and that information at the end of the year is extracted. Where the children went (online). What website they searched. Everything. They know everything about our children. And it's password protected," he said.
"I have a great relationship with my daughter and I told her I wanted her user ID and password. She gave it to me and I logged in to learn more about her studies," said Honeycutt.
Based on that curriculum, Honeycutt said he learned the textbooks and the supplemental material teach every one of the following as "True":
"Christians and Muslins serve the same GOD"
"Islam teaches equality"
"Islam emphasizes fairness and justice in human affairs for all believers"
"Islam is tolerant and embraces the Jew and Christian belief and practices"
"Mohammed and Jesus were only prophets and teachers with no direct relationship to GOD"
"Sharia law is only made up of the following: Do not gamble, eat pork, and drink alcohol"
"Allah is the only God to worship. The True GOD"
"Sharia law is good for women and gives them equal religious rights"
"Islam is a peaceful religion"
"Mohammed was a good man who brought people together and protected women and children"
The problem is not with the teachers, said Honeycutt. The issue is with the standards and materials mandated by the state.
“We do not object to Islam being taught,” he told WJLE. “It just needs to be taught fairly. I think the theology and indoctrination part goes a little deeper than it should. It’s half truths and some of it even details lies. We just want the truth told to our children.”
Honeycutt elaborated further on examples of educational materials that concerned him.
“In the supplemental material it says that Islam teaches equality,” he said. “In some of the supplemental material that was given to my daughter, it says that we serve the same God as the Muslim God. As a Christian, that’s just not true.”
“In some of the textbooks it talks about how tolerant the Islamic religion is towards Jews and Christians,” he continued. “It talks about how positive Shariah law is for women. It talks about how they allowed Christians and Jews to practice their faiths and how they believed and respected their ability to worship their God. We know that’s not true. If you know the true tenants of Islam, you know there is no truth in that, but unfortunately, that is what the curriculum is teaching in both of the books that have been approved by the state” board of education.
Those two books he referred to are the Pearson My World and the other is known simply as the McGraw Hill book with a King on the front of it. DeKalb Schools use the Pearson book.
Local education officials were asked to respond and gave no details, but pointed to state standards in the following statement issued by the Central Office: “Public education in this state is governed in accordance with the laws enacted by the general assembly and under state policies, standards and guidelines adopted by the state board of education that are necessary for the proper operation of public education in kindergarten through grade twelve.”
The statement went on to say, “The policies, standards and guidelines shall be formulated by the state board of education, with such assistance from the commissioner of education as the state board may request.”
Some educators point out Christianity is taught in the 6th grade, but Honeycutt said Friday night the religious balance is misleading.
“What they do is cover the origins of Christianity,” he explained. “Let’s say you taught four weeks of Christianity and four weeks of Islam. Let’s say it balanced out. Here’s the problem. The Islamic portion is not true. Its half history. Its revisionist history. They don’t tell the truth about Islam.”
“If you look at the weight of the standard here’s the problem,” he said. “In the sixth grade they cover a little bit of Christianity and say it’s the origins of Christianity. If you go to the seventh grade there’s a three-and-a-half to four-weeks study of Islam. If you go over to the African and European chapters that are also being taught in the seventh grade, it is African and European culture study and how it relates to Islam. Then at the end of the seventh grade curriculum they do cover a little bit of Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism. But do you know what they are comparing those religions to? They’re comparing them back to Islam. If you weigh it all up it is three-to-one. So not only are you getting more Islamic teaching than Christianity, it’s a revisionist history. It’s a non-truth. Therein lies the problem.”
The Central Office statement also included a comment from B. Fielding Rolston, Chairman of the State Board of Education, who addressed the World History curriculum.
He said “World History is taught in the sixth and seventh grade, and high school. All major religions are covered in historical context starting with early civilizations through the decline of the Roman Empire in the sixth grade. It continues through the Middle Ages and the exploration of the Americans in the seventh grade. This includes religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism. The focus on each religion depends on the context and influence of the relevant time period.”
As for now, State Board of Education Rules and Regulations regarding curriculum says “The Tennessee Board of Education shall adopt curriculum standards for each subject area, grades K-12. The standards shall specify learning expectations and include performance indicators. The approved standards shall be the basis for planning instructional programs in each local school system.” And, “adopted textbooks shall be aligned with state curriculum standards.”
However, state officials have said because of feedback from educators and stakeholders, they will review the social studies standards earlier than usual. They are normally reviewed every six years, but the state will take a new look starting in January.
The local statement issued by the Central Office encouraged public input.
“The social studies standards review website will be launched in January 2016 and we encourage all Tennesseans to utilize this to provide critical feedback,” the statement said.
And Honeycutt said “parents have to wake up.”
“The first thing is you can ask for the changing of the textbook,” he said. “There are forms you can fill out to have those textbooks pulled because the truth is not in them.”
“Overton County has pulled the book. Fentress County has pulled the book,” he reported Friday night. “We know there are some issues going on with some lawsuits in White County. That’s all we can do is try and wake the people up.”
Secondly, he said “is reach out to your state representatives and let them know” about your concerns.
He expressed some hope an earlier than planned review will lead to changes.
“One thing you must understand is this was a six year standard and it was implemented last year. I've been traveling the state for almost fifteen months and almost 40 dates all across the state of Tennessee,” he explained. “It has gained so much attention this year in its second year that they are actually going to revisit the social studies standard that was supposed to be continued for four more years. So we've already got the momentum on our side. They are going to bring it back into session in January and they are going to look at these standards and find out what the truth is.”
However, he said there are obstacles to changing the curriculum.
“If there is nothing wrong with the curriculum then why are lawyers trying to block the request for what’s being taught?” he asked. “If there is nothing wrong with this curriculum then why is C.A.I.R. (Council on American-Islamic Relations) trying to block House Bill 1418 by Rep. Shelia Butt. (The state board of education shall not include religious doctrine in any curriculum standards for grades prior to grades ten through twelve.) Every time we try to so something there is a roadblock thrown up. If it is just simple curriculm and it is just what’s being taught in school then why so many roadblocks?”
(CLICK PDF LINK BELOW TO VIEW HOUSE BILL 1418 BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE SHELIA BUTT)
HB1418.pdf (92.07 KB)
Honeycutt also realizes both educators and parents want good test scores.
“At the end of the year they (students) are going to be tested on this material,” he said. “A lot of it will be either in the TCAP tests or what is called a Pilot test that is administered by Pearson which produces one of those two books. So if you teach supplemental material or curriculum that doesn’t follow what the Tennessee standards say to teach, when you test on it you may get low test scores. So nobody wants that. So you have to come up with a curriculum that shows Islam in a positive light. Nobody is objecting to teaching Islam. Just teach the truth.”
State Representatives Terri Lynn Weaver and Mark Pody and State Senator Mae Beavers have said they oppose the state's standards.