Cobb Muslim lesson leads to threats to curriculum publisher. State school chief renounces material.

Is discussion of burqas and Sharia law appropriate for a middle school assignment on dress codes? (AP Images)

Is discussion of burqas and Sharia law appropriate for a middle school assignment on dress codes? (AP Images)

After our discussion here on the blog, I suggested that the AJC do a deeper story on the controversial Cobb lesson plan that featured a fictional two-page letter written by a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian woman in which she writes approvingly of wearing the Islamic veil and of her fiance’s multiple wives and the law of Sharia. A Cobb parent complained that the lesson was not balanced, and his concerns spread across the Internet this week.

In the course of reporting the news story, the AJC learned that the company that created the material, InspirEd Educators, is getting  threats.

And now even the state school chief is saying that he doesn’t approve of the material, although it was offered to teachers as a resource through the state Department of Education.

If the message of this lesson was supposed to be tolerance, it seems to have demonstrated to students that tolerance is in short supply. (By the way, any bets that some legislator will sponsor a bill to combat the “Islamizing of public schools?)

From the AJC:

A firestorm in the blogosphere, ignited by a Cobb middle school’s’ use of curriculum materials defending Islamic precepts, has brought threats against a Roswell curriculum publisher. The assignment by a teacher at Campbell Middle School, which asked students to write on the issue of dress codes, included a fictional two-page letter ostensibly written by a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian woman.

Wednesday, InspirEd Educators released a statement saying it “has received what the police have classified as hate email and phone calls, and the company and its staff have been threatened and discussed with threatening language on various websites and blogs.”

The letter from Ahlima is part of a 358-page unit for use during a two-week segment that Georgia middle schoolers devote to the Middle East. It is paired with a letter from a fictional Israeli woman discussing her own lifestyle. It is part of the “resource materials” offered to local schools by the state Department of Education, from a vendor approved by the state.

But State School Superintendent John Barge said “I don’t agree with this lesson, I’ll be up front with you.” Despite state approval of the vendor, the material might not have been reviewed by the state, Barge said. “I honestly don’t have the staff here to do that,” he added. “The reality is with budget cuts here, I have one social studies studies specialist for the entire state of Georgia.”

Henry County schools also used the material last year, and listed it on its website, but subsequently removed it.  “We have made sure that it is not being used this year for any lesson plans,” said Henry spokesman J.D. Hardin.

Used in a context of discussion of the school dress code, the InspirEd Educators material was out of place, and appeared unbalanced, said Dale Gaddis, Cobb’s area assistant superintendent. But as to whether Cobb is “indoctrinating American youth with Islamic propaganda” (as is charged by a website called Creeping Sharia), Gaddis pleads not guilty. “Our responsibility is to provide information in a balanced manner; not to endorse, defend or not defend.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

140 comments Add your comment

main d

September 29th, 2011
9:23 am

how many millions did cobb co. pay to this company for this worthless material?

posterchild

September 29th, 2011
9:23 am

Fun fact: I studied many different groups of people throughout my education, and I turned out ok. Better just go ahead and take your kids out of school; you wouldn’t want them reading about, say, turltes, and becoming one of those.

yikes

September 29th, 2011
9:29 am

It just gets more and more embarrassing to be from Georgia.

Sherry Hogan

September 29th, 2011
9:32 am

The government takes God out of our schools but turns around and teaches the children about other religions including Islam even going so far as to include a fictitious letter from a Muslim stating that this is what God wants. I’m just saying….no God in school…but slip in a letter to vulnerable kids about Islam??????

DJ Sniper

September 29th, 2011
9:34 am

Yikes, it’s not just Georgia, it’s America period. We seem hellbent on making sure that our children are some of the least educated, most narrow minded individuals on the planet. From what I’ve read of this article, there is absolutely nothing that indicates any sort of indoctrination. Of course, “Muslim” and “Islam” are the dirty words of the day now.

yikes

September 29th, 2011
9:36 am

DJ – sad but true

JB

September 29th, 2011
9:44 am

Agree DJ Sniper: This is the same logic that says sex education is equivalent to teaching kids how to have sex. Education is not about indoctrinating students in any belief system – including the “American way.” While this small piece of the material does seem biased, it could be a great way to teach students critical thinking skills. This could foment a great discussion about what this system really means for women and families, for freedom etc. I can’t believe people are so threatened by this – but I suppose extreme, knee-jerk reactions are the norm in the age of Sarah Palin.

DJ Sniper

September 29th, 2011
9:48 am

JB, I will never understand the logic that makes people think that sex education is giving children a free pass to go out and have sex. If this country would stop being so dang uptight about that subject, maybe we could get somewhere. I know talking to your kids about sex isn’t the most comfortable thing to do, but sticking your head in the sand and simply telling them “don’t do it” isn’t the answer either.

It also kills me how some people are so quick to paint all Muslims with the same broad brush, but will turn around and raise hell if someone criticizes their own religion.

justjanny

September 29th, 2011
9:51 am

didn’t get to weigh in on yesterday’s vent…here’s my comment regarding those who do not wish for their children to hear the President of the UNITED States:

“Though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements. In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress. If he comes in ignorance, rags and wretchedness he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome; but if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning his race, and his coming is resented as impudence. In one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to pride and provokes malice.”

Frederick Douglass
September 25, 1883

Concerned DeKalb Mom

September 29th, 2011
9:52 am

Another sad day in GA education…really, death threats? Really? What are these people teaching their kids at home?

Atlanta mom

September 29th, 2011
10:02 am

Here in Georgia, ignorance is bliss.

Shar

September 29th, 2011
10:05 am

Isn’t sparking discussion the point of this reading? I’d take a SWAG here and say that precious few, if any, seventh graders (and particularly girls) will be likely to kick over their suburban traces and flee Abercrombie and Fitch for Burquas ‘R Us after reading this description of Islamic life.

I just do not understand how people who profess to be Christians can insist so vehemently that their moral and religious positions be respected, even going so far as to legally force them on other people, and yet equally vehemently insist that other religions be removed from the public stage.

Tony

September 29th, 2011
10:09 am

This story presents a harsh truth about why Georgia (and many other states) are lagging in educational quality. People simply do not want our students to think at all for themselves. The mass produced, bubble tests that are used as measures of learning (albeit inaccuate) do not need students who think, only students who can mark the correct answer. For when it comes to truly developing thinkers who can solve problems, the politics of “who is right” starts to interfere. It happens more than you can imagine! (See also recent remarks about whether the President of the United States of America should be allowed to address our school children for further evidence.) What is it going to take?

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

DJ Sniper

September 29th, 2011
10:15 am

Shar, your second paragraph is nothing but the truth. I won’t put all Christians in that boat, because I know plenty who don’t fit that description at all. Still, there are plenty who do fit that bill, including some of the GOP presidential candidates.

posterchild

September 29th, 2011
10:21 am

@Shar, word up.

laydeeliberty

September 29th, 2011
10:27 am

Shar, unlike the “religion” of Islam, Christian faith doesn’t demand the death of anyone who believes differently, doesn’t believe a rape victim should be sentenced to death, rather than the man who committed the crime, doesn’t preach for the destruction of certain groups, and isn’t anti-semetic.

I will teach my child what she needs to know about Islam. I have read the Koran and I know all about the hate spewed throughout the book, as well as researched Mohammed and his propensity for marrying children. Don’t compare Christianity to Islam. It’s apples and oranges.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

September 29th, 2011
10:27 am

I wonder how tolerant the muslim countries are of our ways of life here in the USA and how many in-school lessons are taught regarding same?

Hmmm…as usual instead of assimilating these “rogue” groups expect US to accommodate them. Seems a little one-sided to Mr Sunshine.

Ashley

September 29th, 2011
10:30 am

@shar….touche’ ,you would think Christians who were once persecuted, would show some respect to other religions and culture. Perhaps a history lesson on Christian atrocities would soften there stance. Our differences are what make us Americans, we chose to live in a democratic society and not a theocracy.

Sue

September 29th, 2011
10:32 am

Shar, your comments are so true! People fear what they don’t know, but won’t give our children the opportunity to learn. Funny thing, my daughter is currently an exchange student in muslim country living with a muslim family. She does not have to wear a veil, her host mother works and drives, and they have even offered to take her to the local Christian church. Give our children the opportunity to learn about other cultures and they just might surprise you!

Muhammad Speaks

September 29th, 2011
10:35 am

Again -

Leave Me Alone!

I am seventy-eight year old man and can’t wait to get up there with all those virgins in the sky. If you want to believe that someone arose from the dead or walked on water, so be it.

Let Me Have My Beliefs in Peace!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

September 29th, 2011
10:36 am

“Another sad day in GA education…really, death threats? Really? What are these people teaching their kids at home?”

Probably trying to teach them that the USA should remain a SuperPower instead of a multi-lateral nation like Obama and the clintons want, dont let these “rogues” trap you with the double-talk and there is a huge difference between being tolerant being taken advantage of and liars (wolves) disguised as sheep.

Ground Control

September 29th, 2011
10:43 am

@posterchild – best comment on this blog ever.

Teacher Reader

September 29th, 2011
10:46 am

Unless you’ve taught or have closely looked into the curriculum that is being taught, you would not understand the indoctrination that our children are being fed from day one at school. It’s not that I have a problem with children learning about Islam, but this assignment did not give the full facts. I also know how our children are taught a convoluted United States history, so our children really don’t understand their own government, how and why it was founded and the real meaning of the documents that make America, America. The social studies books (note not history) are skewed and do not tell the full story and give a very biased, anti-American point of view.

A child cannot understand other cultures, until they fully understand that of their own. Our country was founded on Judea-Christian beliefs, that have been slowly stripped from our way of life. We have forgotten what the separation of church and state really means. It means that the government cannot tell you what religion you have to be a part of, not that there was to be no religion in the creation of laws and way of life in America. We have really forgotten our roots, and have taught so many generations untruths, that have slowly become “facts.”

The problem that I have with this lesson, is that it does not have anything to do with school uniforms and that it does not show the true brutality and discrimination that woman face in many Islamic countries, even those that appear to be Westernized. I am all for my child to learn about other cultures, but first he must understand the history of his own country, and then he must be taught the total truth about other cultures.

For those that don’t believe this, read Charlotte Iserbyt’s web site, watch the youtube videos, and do some research about what is really happening in our public schools. I have read her book, and as an ex-teacher she explains through government documentation, and other documentation on why I was able to teach less and less to the children in the fifteen years that I taught.

library volunteer

September 29th, 2011
10:49 am

If the exact same facts were presented in third person – this is what Muslims believe, and similar cultural or religious beliefs for others, Christian, Jewish, etc., then students can compare/contrast and think for themselves about the beliefs of all represented. What bothered me about this was the first person presentation of “this is what I believe and what I think is good and right”. We definitely need to remain factual and emotionally distant on matters of religion and beliefs.

justjanny

September 29th, 2011
10:58 am

If we wish to live in and participate in a global economy, we must open our minds to educating our children to all cultures. I am sure that no one in Cobb Co. is trying to convert the children to Islam…Georgia residents need to open their minds.

teacher&mom

September 29th, 2011
11:00 am

Off topic…but giving a shout out to our own fellow blogger Peter Smagorinsky. He has an excellent post on the Washington Post education page.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/the-latest-in-free-market-educational-solutions/2011/09/19/gIQAEd4rfK_blog.html

DJ Sniper

September 29th, 2011
11:02 am

TeacherReader, please tell me you’re not one of those people who believe this country was founded as a Christian nation.

Maureen Downey

September 29th, 2011
11:03 am

@teacher & Mom, thanks for linking to Dr. Smagorinsky’s piece. I meant to that last week but then was off for four days for the wedding.
I will do a post on the piece shortly.
Maureen

Parent in Atlanta

September 29th, 2011
11:06 am

Ladeeliberty–Have you read Leviticus lately? The Bible, particularly for those who view it as an inerrant, literal document, is a potentially dangerous text too.

24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.

teacher&mom

September 29th, 2011
11:08 am

@Maureen:
Here’s another post I found that is relevant to Georgia. Perhaps I missed this on the AJC. This school year is one of EPIC proportions for me and I’m in constant “catch-up” mode. Luckily, the school had a few guest speakers for the students this morning…:)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-vision-for-public-education/2011/09/29/gIQATALG6K_blog.html

You have my utmost admiration…stepping away for ONLY four days to prepare for a wedding. I’d need at least a month :)

thewindwhistler

September 29th, 2011
11:17 am

It is common to think of our culture and our time as standing at the apex of civilization. What can the Muslims say in their favor, are they a peaceful law abiding hardworking people? In my opinion they are. At the same time Muslim extremists have made war under the guise of religon, that Allah would want it. That is not good, it has put our country as well as others on high alert over the prospect of Muslim terrorism, how tolerant should we be in an atmospher e of hate entirely created by Muslim terrorists?How much can the civilized world tolerate before they say” I have had enough, I am not going to take it anymore”?
We do no intend to make any religous group a “scapegoat”, at the same time, when they are a part of our community they should learn whAT OUR CULTURE IS all about and try to be a part of it.

mystery poster

September 29th, 2011
11:18 am

Heaven forfend we as ask our students to read something we may or may not agree with and critique and analyze it.

Folks: It's Not All Bad!

September 29th, 2011
11:23 am

Reflections -

On a recent business stay in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia my family and I could not help but notice the absence of: title, pawn & pay day loan shops; liquor stores; clubs & bars; XXX centers; weight loss clinics; bars on windows…….on and on.

The most bizarre document we had to fill out before being offically granted entrance into the country was called the “death letter”. The death letter was a statement saying that we acknowledged the fact that import and/or involvement in drugs, alcohol or pornography was a serious offense and that trafficking in any of these items was punishable by death. Every single member of the family had to sign this letter, even my kids!

Chop, Chop Square:
This is an open courtyard area where each Friday punishment is meted out for crimes. Islamic law requires a thief to have his right hand cut off. Persons convicted of drug-related offenses, rape and murder all are beheaded with a large curved sword.

Regardless of your opinion of this form of “justice”, they do not have a very high crime rate in Saudi Arabia! I never felt in any way threatened andI always enjoyed long nighttime walks.

Yes, some of the Western “freedom” is absent, but on whole, they enjoy a much cleaner, less vulgar quality of life.

laydeeliberty

September 29th, 2011
11:31 am

@ Parent in Atlanta -

The bible does have those words in it, that is true, however, unlike most Islamic societies, ours have moved out the 14th century and into the present, and rarely do you hear about Christians taking the lives of others because they ‘blasphemed’ God. I know the libs love to mention Timothy McVeigh as an example, but he was anti-government and had nothing to do with killing in the name of Christianity. The problem with Islam is that you can’t reason with fanatics who are hell bent on taking over the world and implementing Sharia Law, a stated goal not only in the Koran, but by many of the Islamist leaders today. Christians are live and let live, Islam is live and if you don’t believe like us, then you die.

DawgFann1

September 29th, 2011
11:35 am

I agree with most of everything “laydeeliberty” is saying 100%, except when comparing Christianity to Islam is more like Apples and rotten oranges!

soccermom

September 29th, 2011
11:39 am

@Folks:
Regardless of whether or not “they enjoy a much cleaner, less vulgar quality of life”, I would rather have freedom, especially as a woman!

DJ Sniper

September 29th, 2011
11:42 am

Oh damn, I see some people in here are drinking the Kool-Aid. Will you guys please stop with the nonsense about Muslims trying to implement sharia law here in the US? I’m sure there are some extremists who would like that, but the majority of Muslims aren’t trying to do it. Also, there are plenty of Christians who are hellbent on imposing their religious beliefs onto everybody as well. Some of these people are also still stuck in the past.

KJL

September 29th, 2011
11:45 am

“Shar, your second paragraph is nothing but the truth. I won’t put all Christians in that boat, because I know plenty who don’t fit that description at all. Still, there are plenty who do fit that bill, including some of the GOP presidential candidates”

What about the millions of evangelicals that worship the likes of Eddie Long and the slew of other black religious leaders?

Pluto

September 29th, 2011
11:47 am

@ justjanny … who elected you as the president of social enlightenment?

Shar

September 29th, 2011
11:49 am

@ DJ, I stand corrected. I agree with you – I should have said “SOME people”. I know lots of folks who truly believe and who respect the beliefs of others.

@Posterchild: I had to google ‘word up’. I thought I had offended you. I’m such a dweeb.

@ Ladeeliberty: Leviticus is only one example. The Bible, and particularly the New Testament, revolutionized the world through three radical precepts: the sanctification of Mary as the essence of woman, raising females from the level of chattel, the importance of each individual to a loving deity and the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, those are counterbalanced by a whole lot of scriptural passages along the ‘eye for an eye’ line, including all those references to keeping slaves and burning down cities that offend The Lord, that were used to justify oppression and mass murder (the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Spanish genocide of the Incans and the Aztecs, the American forced removal of the ‘heathen’ Native Americans and taking their children away for Christian acculturalization, English imperialism, and on and on) for centuries before Mohammad even lived and right on up to the present day, as exemplified by the current pope’s finally apologizing for institutionalizing anti-Semitism.

Bottom line, passionate and blind faith in an unprovable construct is both uplifting and dangerous. Uplifting in that the ideals for human improvement are almost always glorious and beyond practical reach, and dangerous because fallible humans (priests, mullahs, Jim Jones, whomever) twist the faith to their self-interested doctrines. Learning to think critically, to love the ideal while being very cautious of any attempt to dictate how to reach those ideals, is a more moral and courageous path, and one I think we should encourage in ourselves and in our children.

Fred

September 29th, 2011
11:53 am

I find it amusing that the same folks who have conniption fits if God is mentioned in any Christian context (unless it preceeds the word damn) are all warm and fuzzy when “god” refers to Allah.

I also find it amusing that the people who are all in an uproar about Islam are the same ones claiming that if we just had Jesus back in the schools everything would be ok.

Guess I’m the only one who sees the blatant hypocrisy on both sides.

Yet at the same time, how can you meaningfully study the middle east WITHOUT including their religion? Islam IS their “culture” and the basis of the Government for many of the Countries of the middle east.

Religion is a HUGE factor in societies and cultures world wide. What is wrong with an objective study of the major ones?

As to this current “controversy? Mr Billy Shakespeare said it best in the title of one of his plays, “Much Ado about Nothing.”

laydeelover

September 29th, 2011
11:53 am

laydeeliberty – true dat! Let’s go blow up some abortion clinics this weekend gurl!

V for Vendetta

September 29th, 2011
12:00 pm

If people like Folks are willing to trade personal liberties for a higher perceived degree of safety, be my guest. While you’re at it, why don’t you move on over there for good. Though I made a snide comment on a previous blog to the effect that ALL religion should be expunged with equal severity from schools, I hadn’t yet read the fictional lesson anchoring the discussion at hand.

Quite simply, this sort of blatant disregard for the truth is unacceptable in any school in any country that considers itself free. People, this is not an issue of christianity versus islam; it is an issue of FACT versus FICTION. Though the story is billed as a fictional account, the information in the story–such as the wearing of the burka for comfort and sand protection–would be downright misleading to students in middle school. I’m shocked that so many people on this blog are in favor of such things being taught as a matter of cultural perspective or diversity. The bottom line is this:

All cultures are NOT equal or deserving of some automatic level of respect. At any given moment in history, there have been cultures working to advance the human condition and lead our species to new heights, but there have also been cultures seeking to shackle the human species to the bonds of mysticism, tyrrany, and savagery. Those cultures should be presented as what they are: misguided and dangerous obstacles in the path of greater learning, science, discovery, and tolerance. Having tolerance for others does not extend to those who have no tolerance for you–especially when that lack of tolerance is predicated on faith and mysticism.

For these reasons and many more, I condemn this idiotic lesson plan. If there is anything I can do on a personal level to prevent garbage like this from being taught at my school or in my county, I will swiftly and gladly do it.

Mary

September 29th, 2011
12:00 pm

Schools teach reading, writing & arithmatic.

Churchs teach religion.

I don’t want my kid educated about religion in school. I’ll take care of that thank you.

I don’t want the Sunday School teacher teaching my kid math.

There’s a reason there’s a separation of church and state.

Bigguy

September 29th, 2011
12:00 pm

Though I know blogs and others social media site open for public comment do not represent an accurate picture of opinions on any controversy (the extremes come out to play in large numbers), I am surprised at the comments here so far. How people expect to be tolerant without being able to quiet down for a moment and listen to descriptions from another faith tradition is beyond me. The lesson didn’t require, or even suggest, that anyone has to agree with Muslims, does it?

Personally, this kind of ignorant reaction is why spirituality of all kinds, Christian in particular because it is the dominant one, should be kept out of public schools and left to places of worship. People are too sensitive and intolerant, unfortunately, to even converse about something so simple.

posterchild

September 29th, 2011
12:01 pm

@Ground Control, reading and learning about things is just plain scary. Let’s just not do it anymore. That’ll solve ALL the problems!

Georgia Matters

September 29th, 2011
12:01 pm

Schools should teach reading, writing, english, math and American History. Nothing else is needed in this country of AMERICA. Its not Iran, Mexico, Syria or any other country. This is America where we have our own laws and a Constitution and speak English so teach it. The schools banned morning prayer a long time ago, so keep the rest of the religions out of our schools also. Teach our kids what they need to learn and keep your politics, political view and opinions to yourself. Its not what our kids need to excell. The parents and only the parents should teach religion and give their political views to school age kids and nobody else. After the kids grow up they can use their own minds to decide for themself. Im sick of these schools and teachers and administrators thinking they can mold these kids into accepting what IS NOT the norm. Schools and teachers need a total reform and it needs to start now.

November 6, 2012

September 29th, 2011
12:03 pm

@If the message of this lesson was supposed to be tolerance, it seems to have demonstrated to students that tolerance is in short supply.

Soooo, Maureen, do they teach this curriculum in the CSD and if they do, do you as a parent of students in the system approve of it?

You know, muslims are indoctrinated from birth that the USA and all it’s people are evil and must be destroyed……..and you’re asking me to be tolerant? This curriculum being taught is nothing more than an attempt to indoctrinate our young people and we’re falling for it, hook, line and sinker. I guess when sharia law becomes the law of the land (with the way we’re going, this is not unfathomable) you’re gonna still be tolerant? Call me an old softie if you will, but I love my children and grandchildren and I don’t want them being subjected to this kind of life. As Barney was so fond of saying…….”Nip it in the bud”.

SPARKY

September 29th, 2011
12:04 pm

@Folks,

What’s a “vulgar quality of life”?

I would say repressing women is vulgar. And, trust me, the rich men get to go to prostitutes as much as they like in SA.

You consider somebody’s personal consumption of, for example, wine and an erotic book to be “vulgar”?