Tennessee Takes A Narrower Approach To Teaching Schoolchildren About Islam

State educators have proposed new standards for social studies. Credit: Chas Sisk / WPLN

State educators have proposed new standards for social studies. Credit: Chas Sisk / WPLN

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State educators are slimming down what they’re teaching Tennessee schoolchildren about the Muslim world, following complaints the old lessons were too friendly toward Islam.

The State Board of Education has released draft revisions to Tennessee’s social studies standards for kindergarten through high school. Critics said the previous standards, especially those used in middle school world history classes, were “indoctrinating” students by focusing too much on Muslim beliefs.

The state suggests reducing the middle school content about the Islamic world during the Middle Ages from 10 standards to five.

But Laura Encalade with the state’s Board of Education that’s not unusual. Several social studies units — in several grades — have been cut down based on feedback from parents and teachers.

“There have been cuts across multiple areas,” she says. “So, (we’re) trying to make sure the standards are more manageable so that teachers are actually able to teach all of the content in a given year.”

The state still wants students to know the basics of Islam, including the Quran and the Five Pillars, as well as how it spread through the Middle East. But some major figures and accomplishments have been removed.

The proposed standards also don’t contain much about Muslim theology, says Paul Galloway, executive director of the American Center for Outreach, a Muslim rights organization.

He feels that omission could give students the wrong impression about the relationship between Islam and other faiths.

“It does set up kind of a false narrative that there has to be a clash of civilizations, rather than all of things that are in common and the many, many examples of Muslims and Christians and other faiths living in harmony,” he says.

State officials say people with similar feelings about the proposed standards should weigh in. They’re taking comments until the end of October.

This story was originally published on September 27, 2016.

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