Several recent school incidents in the news are upsetting, raising questions about the judgments and views of the educators and administrators in charge.
In the first case, a principal in a Boston suburb replaced the high school's daily practice of having the Pledge of Allegiance recited over the school intercom by reading a Muslim poem to the entire school. This was especially galling because it occurred on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Peter Badalament, the administrator, defended the poem, saying it was intended to promote "cross-cultural understanding." He had a lame excuse for ignoring the Pledge of Allegiance, explaining that the student who read the Pledge had commitment that day.
"We had the well-being of students at the forefront of our thinking when we chose to acknowledge 9/11 by reading a poem that focused on cross-cultural understanding rather than unsettling words and images associated with the event," Badalament said.
Well-being of the students? What he accomplished was to disgrace his school and offend many Americans by dishonoring the 3,000 victims who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11, one of the darkest days in our history.
The principal should have expected a backlash with his insensitive action. It certainly touched a raw nerve for many in the area, since two of the four planes used in the 9/11 attack originated in Boston and one of the victims was a resident of Concord.
The second school controversy was touched off by a world studies class from a Tennessee high school which took a field trip to an Islamic mosque as part of a course on world religions. There, students listened to readings from the Quran and were also offered copies of the Quran to take home, which some students declined.
Some parents wanted to know why the school would tour a mosque but no trips were offered to Christian churches, Buddhist temples or Jewish synagogues. School officials told one parent that the school could not afford to go to all five.
A worksheet that accompanied the assignment also stirred controversy since many parents felt the author was biased towards Islam.
"If we were to compare the attitude of the Muslim rulers towards the minorities living under their rule during the nineteenth century – with the attitude of the Europeans and the Americans towards their minorities, I dare to say that the record of the Muslims would be better," the author stated.
The worksheet also stated that the "Prophet of Islam was prepared to live in peace with the followers of other monotheistic religions," and also said "Muslims in the Middle East and Asian conquered lands of other peoples but they did not impose their religion over them."
A student named Jessica declined to complete what she considered to be an unfair and unbalanced assignment, stating that there were not enough true facts to properly make a comparison between Muhammed, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ. While Jessica was bold enough to stand up for her beliefs, she received a 'zero' for the assignment.
When her parents questioned school officials about the grade, they were told they were being hostile towards Islam.
Jessica's father was correct in criticizing the school for overstepping its moral authority.
"Someone needs to be held accountable," he said. "They are our children – not theirs."
Thanks to some concerned parents, the school did revise its field trip policy but the larger questions still need to be addressed: Who are these educators and what are they teaching the children?
By Jim Zbick