Maury County Director of Schools Chris Marczak has asked parents concerned about a seventh grade social studies class on the history of Islam to discuss their questions in a Sept. 17 meeting with district teachers and administrators.
“If we are truly going to Grow Maury County together, then we need to openly talk and discuss about what we want to emphasize in our county,” Marczak said in a noon Thursday statement to district parents.
“I encourage you to talk with your children, talk with your teachers, and talk with your principals. We are here to help your children be prepared for Life.”
The issue arose over new state-mandated standards on middle school social studies about early American history. The standards were developed two years ago and implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.
A Spring Hill Middle School parent complained after seeing a school project her daughter had created featuring the Shahada, or Five Pillars of Faith in Islam: prayer, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage and creed.
The creed pillar is known in Arabic as “Shahada,” and in transcribing it students were instructed to write, “Allah is the only God,” said parent Brandee Porterfield.
“These [papers] belong to my daughter in seventh grade at Spring Hill Middle. They have studied Islam for three weeks, but skipped the whole chapter on Christianity because it’s not in the state standards.”
Porterfield said her daughter’s teacher “was not happy about it,” but told the parent she must teach to the standards.
“She said this will be on TCAPs. Both her teacher and Principal Shanda Sparrow said students would not have to write the Shahada again.
“The teacher approached my daughter before class and was very understanding. My daughter told her she would not recite or write the Shahada or anything saying ‘Allah is the only God.’ The teacher said she wouldn’t have to.”
During class time on Tuesday, Porterfield said the teacher verbally asked students about the five pillars, “And the students were reciting the Shahada.”
Marczak said Thursday the section covers early American History, world history early civilizations to the Roman Empire, Middle Ages through exploration of the Americas, and colonization to reconstruction of the Americas.
“Our teachers work together to make sure that our students are learning what is expected through the Tennessee academic standards. For this last section on the Islamic World this past week, our educators had students complete an assignment that had an emphasis on Islamic Faith. The assignment covered some sensitive topics that are of importance to Islamic religion and caused some confusion around whether we are asking students to believe in or simply understand the religion.
“It is our job as a public school system to educate our students on world history in order to be ready to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate.”
Marczak said he has discussed the parental reaction with Maury County Commissioner Donna Cook and District 64 State Rep. Sheila Butt about the state standards for the curriculum.
Cook said she has asked the matter be placed on the Board of Education’s Sept. 10 meeting so citizens can relate their concerns.
Marczak said the Tennessee State Standards on World History in 7th grade require students be taught “historical facts and our students are required to write as part of learning (being able to cite evidence from text). Teachers don’t encourage belief in any certain religion over another. We have students of all faiths in our classrooms and all students cover each world religion.”
“My child was required to write ‘Allah is the only God’,” parent Joy Ellis said. “This is a seventh grade state standard, and will be on the TCAP. Christianity was completely skipped and is not a standard. I didn’t have a problem with the history of Islam being taught, but to go so far as to make my child write the Shahada, is unacceptable.”
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