In Seminole County, Florida, a history book that is currently being used within schools across the state has sparked a bit of controversy.
Ron Wagner, father of a student at Lyman High School, accidentally discovered that his son’s history textbook was teaching a lesson about Muhammad as the “messenger of God.” Immediately concerned with what his son was learning about the Islamic religion in a public school, Wagner contacted a local news department to have his story heard.
“Students were instructed to recite this prayer as the first Pillar of Islam, off of the board, at the teacher’s instruction,” Wagner explained. “For it to be mandatory and part of the curriculum and in the textbooks, didn’t seem right.”
According to The Washington Times, the chapter in the history book is called the “Rise of Islam,” which includes text of the faith’s prayers and scriptures right from the Quran. Written within the book are the words, “There is no god, but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God,” which could easily be a direct quote from the Five Pillars of Islam. Shockingly, this is used as a high school history lesson.
Wagner, who isn’t religious, was unaware that his son’s school was educating the students on religion until he came across a text on his son’s phone from his teacher. The message was sent to remind students to complete a prayer rug assignment and study an Islam packet. If he hadn’t stumbled upon the message on his son’s phone, he may have never known what was within the history textbook. According to WFTV, Wagner further explained that the first 100 pages were missing, which covered topics like Judaism and Christianity.
When Wagner discovered that the first 100 pages were missing, he filed a complaint to the school district. They later informed the father that the manufacturer was at fault and had provided the school with 68 defective books that are only one year old.
Upon Wagner’s voiced concern, a district wide investigation was opened. During the investigation, several students were interviewed, as well as the history teacher. The students claimed they had not been forced to recite the prayer out loud, but had been required to discuss a video that had been viewed in class about the Islamic religion. It was determined during the investigation that the teacher never attempted to convert the students.
WFTV had reporters investigate further. When asked, Dr. Michael Blasewitz, the overseer of the high school curriculum, stated, “The Pillars of Islam are benchmarks in the state curriculum.” When investigative reporter Daralene Jones asked whether the district was considering any changes to the curriculum, Blasewitz was frustrated with the questioning and stormed out of the room. Making a final statement before leaving the room, Blasewitz explained that students learn Judaism and Christianity in earlier school years, saying, “If anything, it’s a little imbalanced toward Christianity and Judaism.”
According to WFTV, religion is allowed to be taught since it is part of history, but public school cannot teach about religion alone. “There’s a difference between teaching of the significance or the impact of a religion and teaching the specific tenets of a religion,” Wagner explained.
The district has announced that they will reconsider this textbook when their contract completes in three years. Although Lyman High School isn’t one of them, some schools in South Florida have requested that the publisher rewrite a portion of the book to avoid any further controversy.
According to WFTV, they have since received a statement in response to the controversy from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida:
In a diverse society, young people should be taught about a wide variety of beliefs, cultures and faiths, and particularly about a faith practiced by millions of Americans and more than one fifth of the world’s population.
Denying all students access to vital information based on the biased political or religious agenda of Islam phobic groups or a handful of misinformed parents does a disservice to our school system, our state and our nation. History is not kind to those who censor information or ban books.
There is a difference between teaching students about a religion as a part of history and teaching a student solely about one religion itself. Public school students don’t need to have a complete understanding of every religion, they simply need to know how those religions have affected history. What would your response be if you found out your child had been religiously influenced at school?