- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

A course about Islam being taught at California public middle schools has come under fire after parents have learned that students wear Muslim robes, adopt Islamic names and stage make-believe pilgrimages to Mecca to learn about the faith.
In one case, students at a middle school in San Luis Obispo in Southern California pretended to be warriors fighting for Islam, an activity that, critics argue, does not belong in a public school classroom.
"We could never teach Christianity like this," said one parent who did not want to be identified because her son is a student at one of the schools.
As a result, one parent has filed a complaint against the San Luis Obispo school district, contending that the schools do not give as much instruction time when it comes to teaching about other religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
"A lot of it is a desire to overly compensate in the name of political correctness and sensitivity," said Brad Dacus, chief counsel with the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal-defense organization that is representing the parents. "It's outrageous."
The course on Islam is one of 11 units of a social studies class called World History and Geography: Medieval and Early Modern Times, that's being taught all over the state. The class is included in the state's curriculum standards, which were approved by state officials in 1998.
The standards tell teachers in general which subjects should be taught at specific grade levels so schools could keep up with the topics that will be included in tests. However, the standards do not tell teachers how to teach the classes.
Teachers are encouraged to come up with the lesson plans themselves, said Doug Stone, a spokesman for the California Board of Education.
The school that recently came under fire for the way it was teaching the three-week course on Islam is Excelsior School in the Byron Union School District near Oakland. There, about 125 seventh-graders dressed up in Muslim robes, studied Islamic proverbs and read verses from the Koran, according to course description handouts that the school sent home to parents.
The students also had to pick a Muslim name out of a list of 30, learn how to write six Islamic phrases in Arabic, and organize a make-believe journey, or hajj, to Mecca, according to the handout.
"From the beginning, you and your classmates will become Muslims," the handout reads. "Dressing as a Muslim and trying to be involved will increase your learning and enjoyment."
Peggy Green, superintendent of the Byron Union School District, said in an interview yesterday that her schools are only teaching about Islam, not promoting the faith. Mrs. Green said students were given the option to dress up as a Muslim for extra credit.
"We are not teaching religion," Mrs. Green said. "We are teaching the California state-mandated standards with state-adopted textbooks. Dressing up in costume, role-playing and simulation games are all used to stimulate class discussion and are common teaching practices used in other subjects as well. There's nothing to be upset about."
Mrs. Green said her schools teach all religions in the same way.
Promoting any religion in a public school would violate state code, said Roger Wolfertz, deputy general counsel for the California Department of Education.
Critics, who learned of the course and its teaching methods yesterday, said they were outraged by the class.
"I don't think seventh-graders should be reading the Koran," said Phyllis Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum. "What they should be learning is the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence. They shouldn't be playing games with another religion. It's a way of entertaining the students, not teaching them. It's just an outrage."
Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, agreed. He said if students were to dress up as Pilgrims and "give thanks to the Almighty" in class, then civil rights activists would be "apoplectic" about it.
"This reflects a terrible double standard," he said. "Anything that smacks of Christianity is systematically excluded in the classroom, but everything else like Wicca to Islam is welcomed. This case exhibits all the more that Christians find themselves in a disfavored class of religion while others are in a preferred position. That's unfortunate."

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