N.C. high school creates controversy with lessons about Muhammad

When Common Core materials include readings about Islam to teach vocabulary, is the purpose pedagogical, or is it political?


CHARLOTTE, N.C., December 29, 2014 — A rural North Carolina school has come under fire for some of its classroom workbook teaching techniques.

Parents in the quiet community of Farmville are asking why children at Central High School were handed a Common Core vocabulary assignment promoting the Prophet Muhammad and the Islamic faith.

One student asked, “If we are not allowed to talk about any other religions in school, how is this appropriate?“

The vocabulary worksheet was given to seniors with the instructions, “In the following exercises, you will have the opportunity to expand your vocabularly by reading about Muhammad and the Islamic world.“

Among the words incorporated into the assignment were astute, conducive, erratic, mosque, pastoral and zenith.

One parent described the material as “Islamic propaganda disguised as classwork.“

“The zenith (emphasis added) of any Muslim’s life is a trip to Mecca,“ said one sentence.

Another said, “The responses to Muhammad’s teachings were at first erratic (emphasis added). Some people responded favorably while others resisted his claim that ’there is no God but Allah and Muhammad his Prophet.’“

A response from Pitt County Schools defended the material saying, “The course is designed to accompany the world literature text, which emphasizes culture in literature. Our school system understands all concerns related to proselytizing, and there is no place for it in our instruction. However, this particular lesson was one of many the students in this class have had and will expose them to the various religions and how they shape cultures throughout the world.“

The school system has a valid point, provided that their statement is true. When asked to provide copies of vocabulary words that were used to offer instruction in the Jewish, Hindu and Christian faiths, though, the school district did not reply.

Other than the word “mosque,“ the vocabulary list could have dealt with virtually any other subject without creating controversy. It was unnecessary to make the focus of the assignment about Islam.

On the other hand, because the American people are generally ignorant about the tenets of Islam, even though the subject is impossible to avoid in any media, it could be argued that teaching students about the religion has merit. This is provided that instruction focuses on the reality of Islam and its basic truths, which, unfortunately, is not likely to happen in a classroom.

When reporter Todd Starnes requested the specific dates that materials would be presented about other religions, he received the following response. “The class recently finished reading Night by Elie Wiesel. As part of the study of this book, students were exposed to Judaism. I’m told that one of the next couple of lessons that will be taught in this class includes an examination of Psalm 23 as part of the lesson. Additionally, the workbook in question has another vocabulary lesson with words used in a passage about India’s three great beliefs (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism). Keep in mind that this workbook is just one of numerous resources used in the course. Students are exposed to various cultures, values, and beliefs through the reading of multiple types of literature, but teachers certainly aren’t advocating for any of them.“

Again, if the response is true, the curriculum is worthwhile if the lessons are unbiased and accurate. However, the school system’s reply, though long, did not answer the question asked by the journalist.

Considering that few classroom teachers are likely to have the appropriate knowledge and skill to properly instruct students in the nuances of any religion, it is a subject that is perhaps best left untouched.


Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News; follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod


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