Authorities in a Virginia county have shut down all schools after a school homework asking students to attempt Arabic calligraphy triggered a widespread backlash from parents and renewed the debate of teaching about religions in school, according to WPTV.
The whole thing started when Cheryl LaPorte, a geography teacher at Augusta County’s Riverheads High School, gave her ninth-grade class an assignment meant to teach students about calligraphy. One of the tasks given to the kids as homework was rewriting the “Shahada,” or the Arabic statement of faith, which reads as follows when translated into English.
“There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
Although the teacher and the school authorities maintain that the homework was given with the intention of teaching students about calligraphy, an important part of Islamic art and architecture, parents fearing Islamic indoctrination of their children inundated the local authorities with calls and messages, apparently “outraged” by the calligraphy assignment selected which could potentially introduce students to Islam, reports News Leader.
It is worth noting here that the recitation of the Shahada is a fundamental step in conversion to Islam. However, the students were asked neither to translate the text nor were they told to recite it. Nonetheless, enraged parents accused the teacher of crossing the line between teaching students about religion as a subject and incorporating religious teachings into a public school education, according to CSR.
— OutFrontCNN (@OutFrontCNN) December 19, 2015
About 100 people assembled at a forum on Tuesday night to discuss the consequences of the recent events. Kimberly Herndon, the parent responsible for organizing the event, said that merely asking students to write down the Shahada, LaPorte took away the students’ right of religious freedom.
“That’s why we need to join together. If my truth can not be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools. That’s what keeps it even across the board.”
Another outraged parent said the teacher was quite clearly trying to “indoctrinate” the children.
“I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the [Muslim faith] when I am a Christian, and I’m going to stand behind Christ.”
Debbie Ballew, a former English teacher, told USA Today that she was disgusted by the double standards shown in public schools. She said that if she had asked children to copy passages from the Bible, she would have been fired.
Several parents asked the teacher to be terminated from her position.
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) December 19, 2015
However, the lesson was found to be in line with the Virginia Standards of Learning for the study of monotheistic world religions. It requires students to learn about the regional and cultural differences among the world’s peoples. Even so, the outpouring of anger by parents forced Augusta County officials in Virginia to close every single county school as a safety precaution.
“While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday, December 18, 2015,” Augusta County Schools said. “We regret having to take this action, but we are doing so based on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board out of an abundance of caution.”
Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond released a press statement, pointing that parents should not necessarily worry about the whole issue, since the calligraphy lesson is part of the Virginia Board of Education and the Commonwealth’s Standards of Learning
“The students were presented with the statement to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East, and were asked to attempt to copy it in order to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy,” the statement read. Furthermore, it said the students were not asked to “translate the Shahada, recite it or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief.”
In the aftermath of the event, social media has seen the development of a caustic discussion about religion and education, with many people sitting on either side of the fence. While many believe that the calligraphy lesson does indeed point toward a hypocritical public school system policy, others believe the level of fury isn’t commensurate with the offense, and it may be hard to imagine it happening with any other religion.
What do you think about the whole incident? Do you think the teacher was right to ask her students to attempt to write the Shahada, or do you think the parents’ fears about their children being indoctrinated to Islam is legitimate? Let us know your viewpoint in the comments section below.
[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]