Teaching Islam in Schools (or an Ode to Coach Landau)

So, I’m back. I forgot I had a blog for about three years, but I’m back. Why am I back? Well, let me tell you…

I love Sunday mornings. Sunday mornings are my chance to sit down with a cup of coffee and just read the paper in the quiet of my apartment. I get to catch up on the latest in politics or read up on the latest loss for my Braves/Titans/Demon Deacons. This is normally a quiet and almost meditative experience, giving me the chance to step away from technology and the world for a little bit and just slow down.

The quiet was shattered this morning as I found myself engaged in an argument with the paper in my hands. My anger was directed toward an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled “Lessons about Islam stir mixed feelings in parents.” School districts in Georgia have been teaching their students about religions, including Islam, as a part of the social studies curriculum, and some parents are not thrilled.

One parent was quoted as being upset that the “radical side of Islam” was not being taught, which he thinks could confuse children and they might “wind up joining terrorist movements such as the Islamic State.” I’m not even really sure where to start with that. If we’re going to include the negative elements of faith groups in school curriculums, then fine. But, if we’re doing that, we’re going to need to emphasize the atrocities of the crusades, the Christian hermeneutical justifications of slavery, and the anti-Semitic tendencies of certain Christians which made Hitler’s job just that much easier. Just as Christianity is not monolithic, Islam is not monolithic. Not all Christians are slavery-promoting anti-Semites, not all Muslims are Islamic State terrorists. Maybe if your school had taught you about Islam in their social studies curriculum, you would know that.

A Protestant author also quoted in the piece claims that comparative religious instruction leads to people being “comparatively religious.” He thinks it shakes people’s faith to learn about others. In this case, someone can become troubled or confused by the fact that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all derive from the same general geographical context and share a connection to the same patriarch in Abraham. But, learning about these connections doesn’t have to be negative. Instruction in comparative religions has never been more important than it is today. Maybe if we knew a little more about what united us, we wouldn’t be so quick to hate those who appear different.

I’m grateful that my high school World History teacher, good ole Coach Landau, made sure to teach us about Islam and its role and place in history. Was he trying to make us convert? No. He was teaching us about a religion and its context. And why not? It was a public school funded by tax dollars that weren’t earmarked for a Protestant Christian education. You see, there’s this thing called the First Amendment. Everybody say it with me: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There is more than one religion represented in this country. They are all protected. They are all important. You can’t just brush one under the rug because you don’t like it. If we want the next generation to be able to function in this world, we need to embrace plurality and educate our children to embrace it as well.


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