The mother of a seventh grader in Sullivan County, Tennessee this week filed a formal challenge to an entire world history textbook because she believes that some parts of the unit on religions amount to “Islamic indoctrination.” Backed by a lawyer from the California group Freedom X, Michelle Edmisten told Sullivan County School Board members that My World History “is being used to teach a distorted view of Islamic history and religious practices.”
The first time she spoke during the school board’s public comment period last month, Edmisten said that her daughter had refused to complete a test that included basic questions about Islam including the name of the religion’s holy book and a listing of the Five Pillars. Her daughter received a grade of zero on the test, but Edmisten felt that she should have been offered an alternate assignment instead.
At that first meeting, Edmisten demanded the immediate removal of the textbook but was told that she would need to follow the challenge policy by submitting her request in writing on the district’s Request for Reconsideration of Materials form. She turned in the form at the subsequent board meeting this past Monday, meaning that a review committee appointed by the principal of Bluff City Middle School now has 15 working days to examine the book and its suitability for the curriculum. The committee will recommend a course of action to the principal, but if Edmisten is not satisfied with the initial decision she may appeal it to the school board.
The school district also has a policy on “Religion in the Curriculum” which says that “no religious belief or non-belief shall be promoted, and none shall be belittled” in Sullivan County classrooms. The current statewide curriculum standards for Tennessee require that seventh-grade students learn about the basics of all major world religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Under new standards that were already being considered before Edmisten launched her challenge, however, the Islamic history component would be eliminated. State Board of Education Vice President Susan Lodal allowed that the world’s second-largest religion is “still part of history [but] we’re just not teaching it to our children.”
The fact that Sullivan County Schools are now requiring Edmisten to follow the challenge policy is an encouraging sign, but if she does appeal the initial decision to the school board, at least one member will apparently support her cause. After she first addressed them last month, board member Mark Ireson made a motion to remove the book immediately in violation of district policy, claiming that “it does not represent the values of the county.” Here’s hoping that his board colleagues and the members of the review committee will feel differently and realize that learning key facts about Islam is very different from being “indoctrinated” to it, and is in fact necessary for any informed citizen to understand the world today.
Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work in 2016 by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.