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Message to Texas: More, not Less Education

30 September 2010 Uncategorized No Comment Email This Post Email This Post

Sept. 24, 2010: Texas State Board of Education member David Bradley challenges Brian Spears of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to find the phrase "separation of church and state" in the U.S. Constitution during a meeting of the board to discuss Islam and Christianity in textbooks in Austin, Texas.

The Texas state board of education recently adopted a resolution warning textbook publishers against infusing their materials with pro-Islamic/anti-Christian distortions. The resolution claims that certain textbooks have a clear agenda in promoting Islam, using as an example one textbook in which 120 lines are devoted to Christian beliefs, practices and holy writings, while 248 are about Islam.

Given the hysteria that has been taking place over the building of mosques across the United States, the honoring of those who spew anti-Muslim views like Marty Peretz and the willingness of some political leaders to build their campaigns around hatred of Muslims, this move by the Texas board is just a microcosm of a larger problem taking place in this country.

There is an apparent ignorance about religion in the United States which has been pointed out by a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey revealed that no more than 54 percent of Americans know that the Quran is the Islamic holy book or that Ramadan is an Islamic holy month. For the amount of time Islam spends in the media spotlight, it is surprising that so many Americans still do not know some of the most basic facts about the faith.

The survey also exposes that Americans don’t know that much about other religions as well- only 47 percent knew that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist- but the continuing relationship between the United States and Muslims around the world means it is especially important that Americans learn about Islam. It is a relationship so important that Obama made changing its dynamics as one of his first priorities after taking office.

For decades this relationship has been uneasy and since 9/11 has only become more stressed and full of distrust. This has led to an increasing negativity of American views towards Muslims. An Economist poll from August showed that 60 percent of Americans believed Muslims should not build a cultural center near Ground Zero and 55 percent admitted to having an unfavorable impression of Islam.

The most significant fact though from the poll is that 46 percent said they either didn’t know very much or nothing at all about Islam. What we need then is more, not less, education about Islam, an education that focuses on not only facts but also leads to greater understanding. It is not enough to just read facts about Islam but to allow Americans to hear from Muslims themselves.

Implementing such educational programs is not going to be easy. Negative reactions to a recent middle school field trip to a mosque in Massachusetts and to the choice of Brooklyn College to have all its incoming students read Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America serve as a warning to what we can expect from trying to push for teachers to spend more time teaching about religion.

But this should not let us shy away from taking advantage of the diversity found in our country and promoting learning from people with different worldviews, cultures and histories. This is the only way we can silence those which continue to operate in an “us vs. them” framework and uphold better cooperation on the human interests which unite us all.

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