The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

There are many good reasons to cancel school. Snow. A hurricane. No heat. A busted water pipe.

But until last week, I had never heard of canceling schools because of what they were teaching.

I have now.

An entire school system in Virginia was shut down Friday — 10,000 students, all kept at home — after a teacher gave an Arabic calligraphy assignment. The assignment, to copy a line as written, was from a standard textbook in a standard class, world geography, with the subject being world religions.

Unfortunately, the line used was the Muslim statement of faith, which translates to “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

The kids were asked to try writing it.

They went home and told their parents.

Look out.

Emails flew. Phones rang off the hook. Anger simmered and boiled over. The textbook identified the shahada as the Islamic statement of faith, but according to reports, it was never translated to the students, nor was it taught as dogma. It was basically an art project, to see how difficult calligraphy is to reproduce. Chances are most kids had no idea what they were scribbling.

Nonetheless, parents said their kids were being brainwashed. Some called for the teacher’s firing. (Don’t they always call for a teacher’s firing?) Some, the local sheriff told the media, wanted the teacher’s head “on a stake.”

With all the angry smoke rising, law enforcement suggested — and the school board agreed — that every single school in the county be closed Friday.

And all learning screeched to a halt.

Now, there are several legitimate questions in this story. First, is there no other example of Arabic calligraphy? Didn’t anyone involved — teacher, principal, textbook editor — realize a statement of faith is too volatile for a glorified penmanship lesson?

But having asked those questions, here’s another: Do we really need to shut an entire school district over this? Have we so quickly paralyzed ourselves with fear? Are we that spooked by the mere letters of the Muslim faith? And who were the police most concerned about — Muslims, or those who hate them?

“I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion,” a mother told a Virginia TV station.

I understand the anger. It was a foolish exercise. But I’m pretty sure the teacher, whose name is Cheryl LaPorte, was trying less to indoctrinate than to accelerate, hoping to work her way through the Standards of Learning tests that are required by her job.

Now that the district has removed that sentence from the class, she can use a different line to teach the calligraphy lesson. Problem solved.

But not over.

There is a reason book burning is so unnerving. So is shutting a school. Fear stymies education. It paralyzes the mind.

Ironically, the limiting of education — and the exclusion of girls from learning at all — is a key criticism we level against fundamentalist religions — including Islam. We’ve never minded doing Christmas shows in public schools that feature Jewish, Hindu or Muslim students.

Yet here we are, closing down an entire school system — with no actual threats being made — because of a copied Arabic sentence?

I imagine the most hysterical parents would prefer their kids never learn anything about the Muslim faith, never hear the word “Allah,” perhaps never be made aware that 1.6 billion people in the world — nearly 25 percent of the global population — practice that religion.

But ignoring Islam is a clear path toward demonizing it. And if you think that’s how you win a war on terror, think again: Polarizing faiths is the surest way to make certain they attack each other.

The Islamic State would like nothing better than if we made every Muslim feel unwelcome here. People go where they feel wanted. If we remove the freedom of religion principles that make this country great, we might as well set up an express train between the U.S. and Islamic fundamentalists.

There will always be problems. There will always be issues. And, by the way, terror attacks were not invented this year, this decade or even this century.

But learning — open learning — is essential to a free society. It is the bread of a peaceful culture.

Knowledge is power. Ignorance sparks fear. Shutting down schools just means the latter is winning.

(C) 2015 BY THE DETROIT FREE PRESS DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo: Ahmed Bin-Baz via Flickr

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Rep. Adam Kinzinger

When the flags fly proudly on the Fourth of July, I remember what my late father taught me about love of country. Much as he despised the scoundrels and pretenders he liked to call "jelly-bellied flag flappers," after a line in a favorite Rudyard Kipling story, he was deeply patriotic. It is a phrase that aptly describes the belligerent chicken hawk who never stops squawking — someone like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

Like many who volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II, my dad never spoke much about his four tough years of military service, which brought him under Japanese bombardment in the Pacific theater. But eventually there came a time when he attached to his lapel a small eagle-shaped pin known as a "ruptured duck" — a memento given to every veteran. With this proof of service, he demonstrated that as a lifelong liberal, he loved his country as much as any conservative.

Keep reading... Show less

Liz Cheney

YouTube Screenshot

Rep. Liz Cheney delivered two clear warnings during last week's House Select Committee hearings. One was to Donald Trump aides and allies who conspired with him to violently overthrow our government. The second was to those who merely observed these crimes but refuse to tell what they know.

The first message: the game is up because the J6 committee has the goods on Trump’s conspiracy, the coverup and the witness tampering so it’s time to either rat out Donald to save your own skin or give up any hope of leniency when indictments are handed out.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}