Georgians are complaining about the way their schools teach religion, but a school district that is getting some of the criticism says it’s not doing anything new.
“My daughter had to learn the Shahid and the Five Pillars of Islam, which is what you learn to convert,” Walton County parent Michelle King complained to Channel 2 Action News. She added that the school didn’t teach the Ten Commandments “or anything about God.”
The Georgia Department of Education requires schools to teach about Islam.
In seventh grade, Georgia middle school students must be able to describe the cultures of the Middle East and compare and contrast the prominent religions — Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. “It is important that students understand the differences between each of these religions to help them understand the tensions that exist in the region,” the state standards, known as the Georgia Performance Standards, say.
In Walton County, that manifested itself in a homework assignment one parent found objectionable: “Allah is the [blank] worshiped by Jews & Christians,” the document said. The child filled in the blank with “same God.”
“It seemed like half the truth to me, they didn’t talk about the extreme Islamics,” the child’s father, Steven Alsup, told Channel 2. A Facebook page on the issue was claiming nearly 2,000 members
Kim Embry, a spokeswoman for Walton County Public Schools, said Monday that the district had gotten only five phone calls — two from the same number and one from someone in a different state who didn’t have children. She’s puzzled by the sudden interest in Walton.
“We are teaching the same stuff that everyone else is teaching,” she said, adding that the district hasn’t changed its curriculum on the topic in nine years. Her son, a senior in high school, told her he remembers doing a quiz along the lines of the Allah is the “same God” back when he was in seventh grade.
Embry said parents are complaining that they don’t want their children exposed to Islam, but, she added, “if you’re learning about the Middle East, it’s very difficult not to teach about Islam.”
Rusty Linder, the Walton assistant superintendent for curriculum, said Georgia’s learning standards teach students about world cultures, of which religion is a part, because students need to understand “that the forces which shape culture have an impact which is relevant to them today.”
Similar complaints about Islam in schools bumped around the Internet, inspiring a handful of calls to the Georgia Department of Education.
Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for agency, said the concerns were not widespread, and most seemed to be reacting to news reports about the same incident rather than something statewide. So he said it doesn’t appear that there is something wrong with the state standards.
He said there’s a difference between the standards, which mandate what a child must learn, and the curriculum that conveys the information. Local districts create the curriculum, he said, adding that the state doesn’t develop worksheets like the one the father, Alsup, complained about.
Georgia does provide resources that suggest how to teach, though. One document says sixth-grade students must be able to describe the major religions of Europe, and includes links to resources, including a guide with a fact sheet and sample quiz.
The fact sheet says Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the “same” deity with different names (Yaweh, Jehovah and Allah). The true or false quiz asks whether the three religions have the same God. The correct answer: true.
Embry said the complaints came from two of the district’s three middle schools — Loganville and Youth, but none of the teachers was teaching inappropriately.
“The curriculum department went through all of it last week,” she said, “and they did not find anything they were concerned about.”