Over the past two weeks an issue developed in one of our local middle schools over the study of World History and specifically the inclusion of Islam in our Tennessee Social Studies Standards (TN Department of Education, n.d.). Parents are upset over the position of the school officials, and ministers and members of the Tennessee state legislature have become involved. Most of the statements I have read from these sources are not borne out by the facts.
First, I have heard the claim that the Tennessee Social Studies Standards are Common Core Standards. Not really, we only have Common Core Standards for Math and English Language Arts (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). You may want to look up my previous blog that discussed the Common Core Standards (Simpson, T. 2015).
Second, I’ve read numerous claims that the Tennessee Social Studies Standards favor Islam over Christianity. Representative Andy Holt, R-Dresden said, “After Reviewing the standards set by the Tennessee Department of Education, it has become abundantly clear that a strong bias in favor of Islam over all other religions is being taught to our children in public schools” (Stewart, 2015, p. A1). Really? I’m not sure which standards he read because this statement in not true for the Tennessee Standards.
The topic for 7th Grade Social Studies in TN (TN Department of Education, n.d.) is World History and Geography: The Middle Ages to the Exploration of the Americas. Teachers are given 75 standards to cover, and only 10 of these standards deal with Islam. Only one of the 10 standards addresses the Qur’an as the primary source of Islamic beliefs and practices, and only one of the 10 standards addresses the Sunni and Shi’ite sects.
Under the study of the Middle Ages in Western Europe 5 different standards address Christianity during this time period. One standard addresses the Crusades and the military struggle between Christians and Muslims over control of the Holy Land. The spread of Christianity through the exploration of the Americas is also addressed.
Under the study of the Renaissance and Reformation, 9 standards deal with Christianity. In this topic Standard 7.55 is interesting.
Outline the reasons for the growing discontent with the Catholic Church, including the main ideas of Martin Luther (salvation by faith), John Calvin (predestination), Desiderius Erasmus(free will), William Tyndale (translating the Bible into English), and their attempts to reconcile what they viewed as God’s Word with Church action.
None of the standards addressing other religions go into as much detail about specific beliefs as this standard. One could argue that the standards for 7th Grade Social Studies are biased toward Protestant Christianity.
Furthermore, an examination of the 6th Grade Social Studies Standards (TN Department of Education, n.d.) sheds additional light on our topic. The topic is World History and Geography: Early Civilizations through the Decline of the Roman Empire (5th Century C.E.). The students study ancient Africa, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India, Ancient China, Ancient Israel, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome. Seven standards address Ancient Israel, and specifically Standard 6.41 is applicable to our discussion.
Describe the monotheistic religion of the Israelites, including:
· the belief in one God (monotheism)
· the Ten Commandments
· the emphasis on individual worth and personal responsibility
· the belief that all people must adhere to the same moral obligations, whether ruler or ruled
· the Torah and the Hebrew Bible as part of the history of early Israel.
Under Ancient Rome, several standards address the rise of Christianity, and Standard 6.68 is significant.
Describe the origins and central features of Christianity:
· the belief in Jesus as the Messiah and God’s Son
· the concept of resurrection
· the concept of salvation
· belief in the Old and New Testaments
· the lives, teachings and contributions of Jesus and Paul
· the relationship of early Christians to officials of the Roman Empire.
The 6th Grade Social Studies Standards place more emphasis on the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity than any of the other religions addressed in the same Standards. If the Standards are biased, they are biased toward Judaism and Christianity.
Growing up in a rural part of East Tennessee during the 1950s and 60s was both a positive and negative experience. I came to understand the positive influence of family and community and the importance of the concept of place. However, there was a negative side. I met my first Roman Catholic when I went to high school, and I remember she had to eat fish on Fridays. I remember many sermons in our rural Baptist church condemning all Roman Catholics to hell. I only knew one African American until our high school integrated in 1964-65; then I knew 10! When I went to college in Nashville, for the first time in my life I had contact with Jews, Asians and Hispanics. I became fascinated by diversity in race and religion.
Teaching has given me the opportunity to travel to China, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, England, France, Switzerland, Germany (East and West), the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Estonia, and Saudi Arabia. I have attended conferences, taught or given presentations in 6 of those countries. The differences between those I have met in other countries, cultures, and religions are striking; however, the similarities are dominant. Most of us want the very same things for our children and grandchildren—love, health, safety, opportunities. As a grandfather, I cannot protect my grandchildren from diversity; nor should I want to. I want to prepare them to live in a diverse world, not the world of the 1950s and 60s in rural East Tennessee.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Mortimer Adler, “One should never say ‘I disagree’ until one can say ‘I understand’”. My dear friend, we cannot hide or protect our children from Islam. We must equip them to live in a world more diverse than we could ever imagine.
Bless you my children,
Dr. Terry L. Simpson
Director of Teacher Education
Dr. Terry L. Simpson
Director of Teacher Education
Useful teaching resources
- The First Amendment Center's A Teacher's Guide to Religion in the Public Schools
- American Academy of Religion's Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the US
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: Authors.
TN Department of Education (n.d.). 6th Grade Social Studies Academic Standards for Students. Retrieved from http://www.tennessee.gov/assets/entities/education/attachments/std_ss_gr_6.pdf
TN Department of Education (n.d.). 7th Grade Social Studies Academic Standards for Students. Retrieved from http://www.tennessee.gov/assets/entities/education/attachments/std_ss_gr_7.pdf
TN Department of Education (n.d.). Social Studies Academic Standards for Students. Retrieved from http://www.tennessee.gov/education/article/social-studies-standards
Simpson, T. (2015, August 28). Why Are We Afraid of National Educational Standards? Retrieved from http://blessyoumychildren.blogspot.com/2015/08/why-are-we-afraid-of-national.html
Stewart, M. (2015, September 13). Carpenters Middle volunteer dismissed due to conversation about Islam. The Daily Times, p. A1. Retrieved from http://www.thedailytimes.com/news/social-studies-standards-divide-blount-state/article_f7f17ed2-1aee-54df-a060-87d945ab6495.html