Type to search

One Arabic Sentence Closes Schools, And Ignorance Wins

Education Featured Post Memo Pad Top News

One Arabic Sentence Closes Schools, And Ignorance Wins


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.


Photo: Ahmed Bin-Baz via Flickr



  1. Böcker December 22, 2015

    Stupid is as stupid does, but what the hell it is the state of Virginia.

    1. FireBaron December 22, 2015

      Remember, that’s where Pat Robertson is headquartered. What does that tell you?

      1. plc97477 December 23, 2015

        Tells me they should check their water supply for stupid juice.

  2. FireBaron December 22, 2015

    I would be willing to bet the stink would be just as loud if the teacher had them try to write out the Shema: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ ה’ אֶחָד
    Talk about difficult! Then the teacher would be accused of trying to convert the kids to Judaism!

  3. RED December 22, 2015

    There is no scum like Con scum!!

  4. Bosda December 22, 2015

    “Book burnings. Always the forerunners. Heralds of the stake, the ovens, the mass graves.” ~~ Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book

  5. ayungclas December 22, 2015

    Imagine what would happen if they were asked to copy the al gebra.

  6. avesraggiana December 22, 2015

    A reaction wildly out of proportion from fearful, ignorant and just plain stupid parents. I’m a Christian, though non-practising, and even I learned how to recite this phrase as part of a middle-school “World Social Studies” class in the late 70s. Did that make me want to dress up like Lawrence of Arabia and brandish a scimitar to lop off heads of non-believers?! What is wrong with people?

    1. idamag December 22, 2015

      Maybe, it is as we, in the Northwest, think, the South is ignorant because it is the Bible belt.

  7. Phil Christensen December 22, 2015

    فَقَدْ أحَبَّ اللهُ العالَمَ كَثِيْراً، حَتَّى إنَّهُ قَدَّمَ ابْنَهُ الوَحِيْدَ، لِكَيْ لا يَهلِكَ كُلُّ مَنْ يُؤْمِنُ بِهِ، بَلْ تَكُونُ لَهُ الحَياةُ الأبَدِيَّةُ

  8. yabbed December 22, 2015

    Yes, well, children are better people, generally speaking, than adults. The ugliness and bigotry surrounding Islam is shameful.

    1. idamag December 22, 2015


    2. angryspittle December 22, 2015

      Yeah, until about the 3rd grade.

  9. idamag December 22, 2015

    Even if the Arab world was our enemies, as some ignoramuses would like to believe, we should know them better. “Know thine enemy.” The most violent religions and the most hateful originated in the Mideast. So, if Christianity managed to eliminate Islam in the United States, then they would start on the Hebrew religion and eventually, it would be protestants versus catholics. Religion is so detrimental to civilization.

  10. Otto Greif December 22, 2015

    If a typing class had students type out bible verses liberals would be singing a different tune.

    1. Insinnergy December 22, 2015

      Stupid Troll is stupid.

    2. Sand_Cat December 22, 2015

      A not at all comparable situation, but of course that’s too deep for you.

  11. Insinnergy December 22, 2015

    I suppose they also have banned photography in case it steals their souls?

  12. angryspittle December 22, 2015

    Fucking paranoid idiots. I wonder if they sleep in their beds or under them.

    Jesus how fucking embarrassing.

    What do you bet these cretins went out and bought plastic and duct tape to wrap their homes?

  13. Sand_Cat December 22, 2015

    More ignorance and hysteria.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.