Home The controversial lesson at Riverheads High School: A primer

The controversial lesson at Riverheads High School: A primer


augusta-county2editsThe Internet is again blowing up, this time over a generated controversy regarding a lesson on the Arabic language from a World Religions textbook at Riverheads High School.

Various conservative media sources have made the story to be an overt effort at Islamic indoctrination, launching the legions of angry commenters using Facebook and news website comment sections to demand the sacking of the teacher, the superintendent, the school board and anyone else who doesn’t agree that the Muslims are trying to kill us all.

Some of that activity has seen its way to the pages at Augusta Free Press, and the holy warriors have been having a field day reciting talking points from the Breitbarts and Daily Mails of the world in the face of a few key facts.

I’ve been fighting an odd battle in trying to answer the criticisms from the handful who are civil and balancing that with taking the brunt of ad hominem attacks for being supportive of the “Mooslims” who want to tear down our country from within.

The likes of people who refer to “Mooslims” are nincompoops who don’t deserve to see the light of day.

For the sensible among the critics, and for those who can’t understand for the life of them what the big issue is with a benign lesson on another culture and its religion, I want to offer a sort of jumping-off point for all to be able to debate the issues that is based entirely in fact, not the rumor, innuendo and nonsense that we’ve seen from the bulk of conservative media, and honestly, I’ve been sad to see parroted by the lazy folks in the national media.


The assignment

The assignment put to students by Riverheads teacher Cheryl LaPorte comes from a World Religions textbook that has been in print since 1995 and was reprinted in 2011.

It is widely used in schools across the country, and has been used by LaPorte in her World Geography class for several years.

The book is readily available for purchase online, and you can view it page for page using Google Books.

The text covers the major world religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism and others – and is written to a level of understanding for students in sixth to eighth grades.

Topics covered include the story of Adam and Eve, Moses and the Ten Commandments, the life of the historical Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, and the life of Mohammed and the development of Islam.

The lesson at the center of the generated controversy directed students to practice Arabic calligraphy by having them copy the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith.

According to students in the class, the assignment was optional, and those completing the assignment would earn a sticker that could be used with other stickers to knock the low grade of the grading period off the student’s ledger.

Obviously as an optional assignment, students could choose not to complete the assignment without penalty.


The controversy

The parent of a student in one of LaPorte’s World Geography classes raised objection to the assignment, and according to media accounts she requested a meeting with school officials and the teacher to raise her objections.

That meeting did not go well, and an effort was made by the school system to conduct a followup meeting, but the parent rejected that offer.

She had already posted on her Facebook page that she was working to make sure that the story would go national.


They closed the schools over this?

Yes. On Thursday, as students were going home for the day, the school system made an abrupt announcement that all afterschool activities that day, and school activities for Friday, the final day before Christmas break, had been canceled out of an abundance of caution.

On Friday, school and county sheriff’s officials said the call to close schools was made because of a flood of messages coming from across the country that threatened massive protests aimed at Riverheads High School and other county schools. Some of the messages included images of beheadings, obviously coming from right-wingers aiming to illustrate what many have said on comments threads online will happen if America doesn’t take its “Muslim threat” seriously.

Coincidentally, the hysteria led to the cancellation of several school Christmas concerts, and students who have traditionally waited until the final day before break to exchange gifts lost that opportunity.

Some elementary-school students who had made Christmas presents for family as class art projects won’t be able to retrieve those projects until the schools reopen in January.


That’s where we are

All of this because a mother wanted to go national with her objections to an optional assignment on Arabic art.

The actual facts of the story don’t matter much, if anything, to the culture warriors who had until now never heard of Riverheads High School or Augusta County, and won’t think about either again once the nonsense here dies down, and somebody gins up another nonsense controversy somewhere else.

The issue to the fringe is that a liberal teacher who for all they’ve read is also a Muslim is trying to forcefully indoctrinate kids into ISIS.

If you don’t immediately see the facts of the story the way they do, you’re a Muslim, too, and you don’t love America, and are deserving of whatever fate comes to you when the terrorists install Sharia Law in the place of the Constitution.

These fools are the loudest, by far, of anyone in the debate, and, bluntly, aren’t worth engaging in any kind of meaningful conversation, because they’re not going to hear you.

There is plenty of room for debate on the merits of the actual facts of the case. Is there a place in high-school civics classes for treatment of the various world religions? Could the textbook be updated to replace the calligraphy lesson with something more benign and still be authentic to presenting a window into Arabic art?

How are parents supposed to raise objections to the content of a particular class? Can school officials do a better job of communicating with parents, and allowing parents to communicate with them, when issues like this arise?

All good points for a discussion that unfortunately will not take place anytime soon, because of all the yelling from the one side, who think that the world is about to come to an end.

The ground rules for future debates on these pages are no doubt clear by now.

We’re going to discuss how we can improve upon what we have in place in terms of civics education in our school system, and how we can better the communications between parents and school officials.

Suggestions, insistence, that the teacher should be fired are non-starters for any reasonable discussion into this issue.

Whatever your feelings are on terrorism, immaterial here, irrelevant here.

If you want to be a part of a constructive discussion on where we can go from here, please, by all means, let’s get that going.

If you want to score a political point on the libtards, there are numerous other venues for you to be able to be as dumb as you wish to be.

– Story by Chris Graham



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