Field Trip to a Mosque

14 posts / 0 new
Last post
Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427
Field Trip to a Mosque

School system halts world studies field trips after mosque controversy | The Tennessean |

Students will no longer be allowed to take field trips to religious venues after the stepfather of a Hendersonville High School student accused the school system of promoting Islam, starting another debate about the role of religion in Sumner County schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the school system in 2011 over teacher-led prayer and promotion of Christianity on school campuses. In the settlement, Sumner schools admitted no wrongdoing, but new rules were put in place barring teachers from praying with students or leading Bible studies on school grounds, and prohibiting youth ministers from visiting schools other than to see family members.

The latest controversy, which has gained national attention on talk radio and cable news outlets, started at the end of August when some parents asked about a planned field trip to a mosque and a Hindu temple during a back-to-school night, said Mike Conner, the stepfather of a freshman at Hendersonville High. Concerns were raised about why the 36-week world studies course would only take students on visits to two religious venues, rather than houses of worship related to all five religions studied in the class.

?If we as parents don?t begin speaking up, no one will,? Conner said.

The honors course ? which is an elective ? has been offered by Hendersonville High for a decade. The curriculum includes world religions, and students spend three weeks on that topic, learning about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, said school system spokesman Jeremy Johnson. In the past, the students have typically visited a Jewish synagogue, a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque without parental complaints.

Conner said his stepdaughter opted out of the field trip and instead was asked to write an alternative assignment comparing and contrasting the religious teachings of Jesus, Gandhi and Muhammad. The materials she was given contained a page of Bible verses, two-thirds of a page about Gandhi and five pages about Muhammad.

When his stepdaughter decided she could not compare and contrast the three because she was given unequal information, she was initially told that she would receive a zero and would not be given another assignment, Conner said. That?s when he really became upset. However, school officials later agreed to give a second alternative assignment.

That assignment was to choose three of the five religions and compare and contrast them. Conner wonders why his stepdaughter wasn?t given that option in the first place.

Conner said other students who attended the Sept. 4 field trip told him copies of the Quran were given to students, who also participated in meditation in the Hindu temple. The school system?s spokesman said materials were handed out at the mosque but he wasn?t sure if they included Qurans, and a tour guide demonstrated how Hindu meditation is achieved but students were not required to participate.
[h=3]Equal time[/h]Conner said he?s OK with students studying five religions, but he found it problematic that only two houses of worship were visited.

?If you can?t share equal time to all five, you shouldn?t do any of them,? he said.

The school system seems to agree, issuing a statement Sept. 17 saying all field trips to religious venues are off.

?After receiving a parent complaint regarding field trip locations, our district has reviewed the practice and decided to eliminate field trips to religious venues from this class, as it does not provide equal representation to all the religions studied in the course unit,? read the statement. ?This decision was made due to the fact that equal representation in regards to field trips for all religions studied in the course is not feasible.?

Conner believes that between the trips and the assignment, the school was promoting the Islamic faith.

?The teacher was pushing Islamic tolerance,? Conner said. ?We did not want to make this about religion ? they forced us to.?

Sumner County Board of Education member Vanessa Silkwood believes some of Conner?s points are valid.

?I think his initial concerns are right on,? she said. ?Whether or not there was true bias, I don?t know. At least there is a perception that this course is skewed and they get that because they only went to two religious venues.?

She said there?s not enough instructional time or funds to tour five sites representative of all five religions.
Kelly Fussman, a 2012 graduate of Hendersonville High School, took the world studies course in 2008, visiting a mosque and a Hindu temple. She said she was disappointed to hear about the decision to halt the field trips.

?The world studies class was really the one and only class that allowed for such an open dialogue of faith and religion,? she said. ?To be able to experience what we were talking about firsthand ? you can?t get that through class discussion and a textbook.?

The teacher of the course, Amanda Elmore, was among the first who made Fussman think critically about the world. ?Without her pushing the limits, I wouldn?t be so open to new cultures and traveling the world,? Fussman said.

In a statement released Friday, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed urged Sumner County Schools to continue the field trips to religious venues.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, said that awareness about other religions created by such trips would make Sumner County students ?well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow.?

He also said that trips should be made to all the religions covered in the classroom.

Do you think that the school system was promoting Islam by having the students visit a mosque and a Hindu temple but not a church or a synagogue? Do you agree that if they don't have the resources to visit the places of worship of all 5 religions they should not be allowed to visit any of them? Any other thoughts?

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

I think that it makes sense that time and resources being limited, you pick a couple of the religions that the students are less likely to have been exposed to at home to go visit. TN being the bible belt, I think it's pretty likely that most of the students have been to a church and/or have been exposed to Christian culture (Christmas celebrations and whatnot) whereas they might not have ever been exposed to Muslim or Hindu culture or have had the opportunity to visit a mosque before. I also don't think it's necessarily realistic to expect them to visit all 5 since that presumably means missing school hours (probably more than just the time that they would be in this class) five times. That's a lot to miss for one elective class.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

Slightly OT, but being familiar with this area, I can guess that this did not go over well at all.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

In order to know if the teacher was placing an undue focus on those two religions, I believe you would have to be there and have a first hand account. It really depends on how the teacher presented the information and I do not believe there is a way to know that from the article.

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

I actually think it would have been beneficial to the class to visit a representation of all the religions discussed but not because I think it was "skewed to promote Islam". I just think to learn about them and to see how each religious space is in real life is beneficial to understanding the topic.

Sometimes, being familiar with a religion doesn't mean you "get" your religion. I truly didn't understand many of the workings of the Catholic church despite going to Catholic school for 2 years and 10 years of CCD until I taught CCD.

Joined: 03/14/09
Posts: 624

I almost would have agreed with the parent except for his comment about Islamic tolerance, when he outed himself as a bigot.

KimPossible's picture
Joined: 05/24/06
Posts: 3312

I think its really a shame actually. Who has funds or money to do five field trips for a single class. I think its fine that they only went to two and I think its good that they went to two that are typically more unfamiliar to the average american populous. Thats really beneficial see them as they REALLY are. Sure it would have been great to be able to do that for all of them but i can see why they can't and really...what are people afraid of?

I just see this as closing off a reasonable source of beneficial exposure to kids and a bit of whining about 'equal time' on field trips.

My daughter told me they are going to take a series of field trips to the grocery store, the fire department and the post office because they are learning about services and wants vs. needs. Should I be upset because they might talk about hospitals in their class too but aren't actually going to visit the hospital? Or should be i pleased that she is getting beneficial exposure to the places they have decided to go.

People are so uptight. I think going to no religious venues instead of two is a step in the wrong direction. This society needs exposure to other religions...esp more unfamiliar religions this day and age because i think religiously speaking, we are all very hostile to eachother.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

I've mentioned before that I attended a Catholic high school. One of the classes I took was "Comparative Religions," which I suppose was designed to reinforce how great Catholicism is when you look at all the inferior religions out there. :rolleyes: Anyway, as a budding atheist who still believed in "something" but I just didn't know what, I was longing to explore other religions that I knew my parents would never approve of or facilitate my learning about. So this was a great class for me. We had to attend services, on our own, of five different religions, one of which could be a non-Catholic Christian religion. A public school would never be able to have a class like that, but I think it should be mandatory for everyone to have to learn about other religions. It might help eliminate some of the religion-based problems in our country to have a lot of eyes opened in that way.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

"Spacers" wrote:

but I think it should be mandatory for everyone to have to learn about other religions.

I have never heard of a school that did not teach at least basically on each major world religion. IMO, it depends heavenly on how it is presented. For example "Here are the main world religions. This is what they believe, where they worship, what area of the world this religion is predominately found, ect" vs. "Here are the main world religions. This is the one that many American's foolishly believe although there are no facts to back this up. This is the one that many poor people believe in. Many people that believe in a religion are too uneducated to know better, ect." Before you say no teacher would have the second attitude, my 11th grade world history teacher did. At the same time, DH has interpreted in classes where the teacher was very biased in support of Christianity.

It is a very difficult subject to teach. One that I would not want to teach anyone else's children in. There is a very fine line that needs to be walked. I left world history knowing very well that my teacher believed anyone that believed in religion was a fool. I know that it happens that other people leave their history classes knowing the teacher is very religious and that is what they think is best.

While difficult, I think any teacher teaching this subject would need to be as neutral as possible. Without knowing the tone of the class, it would be impossible to know if the field trips were meant to only educate or were meant to promote.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

Here it's a high school elective. No one has to take it and I think that's sad and wrong. Everyone should be exposed to the other religions whether they like it or not. I've never understood religions that baptise or confirm 8-year-olds. How many of those 8-year-olds have really been exposed to any other religion to be able to make that decision? Of course you think your religion is the real deal, the only way, when you've never explored anything else. If your religion is so great, you'll feel the same way after exploring all the others.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

"Spacers" wrote:

Here it's a high school elective.

Where I went to school in NY World history was required to graduate. Different religions was not the entire class, but probably at least a quarter. I just asked DH and it is required in the school where he works as well.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

My favorite class in college was a world religion class. I learned more in that term then any other classes. I think it would be great to visit different places of worship, but I am not sure it would be appropriate as a public school field trip? I can see it having a lot of issue arise

Danifo's picture
Joined: 09/07/10
Posts: 1377

Growing up, our public school offered a religion class. The town was 95% Catholic and it was just an extension of teachings from the church. If there were enough kids, we go to do something like typing or library time but sometimes our only option was to sit quietly in the back of the class. My mom challenged it at that point and I was allowed to participate. We never talked about other religions

My high school had more diversity but religion was only mentioned in history as it related to various conflicts.

I'm not sure how the field trip idea works because in my limited experience, it takes time and money and as a parent, I would be irritated if they had to take time away from other classes and had to pay a fee so they could go to 5 different venues. I do have friends who had to attend different faiths' services out side of school.

I would rather hear about the religion from someone who actually practices it. If you talk to someone about a different religion, you get a base definition but if you talk to someone who really believes, you might learn why they are passionate about it, what aspects they agree/disagree with and how it impacts their daily life.

mommytoMR.FACE's picture
Joined: 04/10/09
Posts: 781

What a cool field trip. Mosques are beautiful amongst other holy places in every other religion. Let me guess, that boy's father is probably for banning books as well.