Parents push back against school's lessons on Islam

From the Belleville News-Democrat

By Mary Cooley

Rachel Seger’s daughter “adores” her history teacher and “loves” the class at High Mount School in Swansea, but Seger didn’t like the 12-year-old’s homework of vocabulary words on Thursday night. 

“She said, ‘What’s Koran mean?’ and I flipped,” Seger said. “I said, ‘Excuse me?’ and I looked at them, and I said oh my God.”

The vocabulary words included jihad, Islam, Muslim, Arabia, Muhammad, Allah, hegira, mosque, Koran and Baghdad. 

“Some of these words, I don’t even know what they are: Ayatollah, caliph,” said Seger, who was shocked that the history class would step so close to teaching religion. “I don’t want her learning other faiths from school. If it would have just stopped at ‘this is their culture, this is where they go to church,’ fine. But when you get into the actual aspect of it, that’s where I’m drawing the line. That’s just going a little too far.”

Jim Munden, a sixth-grade history teacher at High Mount, would not comment other than to say the issue had been resolved with the family. 

Seger said she is happy with the quick resolution, and her daughter will work on the geography portions, not the definitions. 

Mark Halwachs, superintendent of High Mount School, said parents rarely question specific parts of lessons. In his four years at the post, he said, one parent questioned a library book, but those concerns were allayed after Halwachs read the book and discussed it with other educators.

Halwachs says the school is teaching — and students that age can tell — the difference between a large group and a fanatical faction.

“We have to present, with 9/11 or anything, it wasn’t a religion that did that. It was bad men that did that. I think you have to take moments like that and use them as teachable moments,” he said. “You have to look at the age group and your students, and to me you can talk about different things in the world and teach about tolerance.”

We have to present, with 9/11 or anything, it wasn’t a religion that did that. it was bad men that did that. I think you have to take moments like that and use them as teachable moments.
— Mark Halwachs, superintendent of High Mount School

Seger says her daughter is too young for some discussions. 

“It’s just hard to explain this to her. That age group, 12-year-old girls, they’re a lot more sensitive than people give them credit for,” Seger said.

“When it comes to that, some of those terms should have been left off of there, or left to parents, or wait until they’re older. Wait until 16 or 17 and old enough to wrap her head around it. If they’re going to teach it, they’re going to teach all of it, not just the happy, good side of it ... and she’s not prepared to hear the whole truth.”

Halwachs said the class, which studies from the board-approved “World Cultures” text published by Silver, Burdett and Ginn, also studies India and the Hindus, Europe and Catholicism, England and Anglicans. Seger’s daughter said they had studied monarchies and Egyptian gods and goddesses. 

“You can teach about religion, you just can’t ... endorse or support a religion over another,” Halwachs said. “You can’t say (Jesus) is the one and only, or he’s the best; you can explain about and teach about the religions of the world.”

Seger said: “I just don’t think that it should be the teacher’s job to be telling my child that.” 

Halwachs said parents and teachers “pretty regularly” work out concerns about what students are taught.

“It’s important to talk to students and go into deep conversations about cultures and beliefs… to me (history) is a perfect time to do this,” Halwachs said.


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