In its inclusion of religion in state and national standards, the United States serves as a positive model for the world. Putting this vision into practice, however, will require better teacher training and more thoughtful curriculum planning.
Published in the ASCD magazine Educational Leadership in October 2002.
It has been a cataclysmic year for Muslims everywhere. For Muslim Americans the contending emotions have been excruciating at times. Coupled with the horror at deeds of unspeakable violence attributed to Islam is dismay at the utterances of hate by some against Islam and among some Muslims. Sorrow and frustration have welled up to overflowing because of the harm inflicted on innocent lives, injustices that are so obviously at the root of the problem, and at the blindness that perpetuates both.
Reprinted with Permission from CSEE.
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An examination of the coverage of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in recent world history textbooks, and an evaluation of the textbooks’ adherence to the prevailing guidelines for teaching about religion.
Published in Religion & Education Journal, volume 25, numbers 1 & 2 (Winter 1998)
World history survey courses involve content across the entire curriculum, and contribute to students’ education in many ways. In the current educational environment of higher expectations and new possibilities, focusing on issues unique to world history teaching may help us to realize improvement in the way it is taught and learned.
In spite of the importance and difficulty of teaching world history, public debate over curriculum has either subsumed world history under social studies or drowned it out in disputes over US history. While few imagine creating a nation of historians, most educated members of the public acknowledge that study of human history deserves its respected and long-standing place in human culture and society. Academically significant knowledge and skills gained through study of world history also imparts political, economic and social benefit to nations. In individual terms, it is helpful or essential in many professions, in addition to its contribution to citizenship skills, personal development and identity formation.
At least three significant trends have come to fruition in K-12 education during the closing decade of this century:
- The tremendous expansion of knowledge in the field of world history
- The development of a civic framework for teaching about religion
- The effort to improve school achievement through standards and accountability
These movements all originated in realms outside the education system, though they are embraced by many educators. Each of these trends presents opportunities and challenges. Taken together, they are profoundly affecting curriculum and classroom instruction, teacher training, and the development of textbooks and other teaching tools.
This article explores what type of knowledge and pedagogical methods are most suitable for the body of information required by social studies standards across the country. In brief, that content involves imparting knowledge about the origins, basic beliefs, and practices of each faith, and the historical context in which they arose, spread and flourished. Importance is also placed on the ideas and traditions of religious thought that grew out of each faith, and the persons and institutions through which it was expressed over time.
The political, economic and social effects of globalization are varied, but they certainly are indicative of our attempt as human beings to define and understand our place in the world. As regions and cultures come into contact with one another, it is often difficult for people to recognize parallel ideas, values, and institutions in other societies. It is much easier to recognize differences and to imagine that they represent an unbridgeable distance from what is familiar. Despite trends towards global interdependence, seemingly inexorable differences continue to be underlined among regions and groups through the use of signifiers that create distance. “Islamic” is a term that has been used as one such signifier. In particular, the word has often served as an adjective in everyday speech that neatly partitions off familiar terms from normalcy and transforms them into unreachable, alien concepts.
Within discourse about Islam and Muslims in the United States and abroad, the term, Islamic, is attached to a wide range of phenomena. Muslims use the term to refer to what relates to Islamic teachings or institutions, but Muslims and non-Muslims alike frequently use the adjective, Islamic, to elevate cultural expressions to the position of normative or consummate institutions or practices. Poorly nuanced use of the term, Islamic, among public commentators often fails to make any distinction between that which pertains directly to Islam and its doctrines, and actions its adherents perform in the cultural or social realm. Thus terms used to signify Islam and Muslims lack precision when used by both Muslims and others in public discourse.
To prevent the utter misunderstandings that can lead to the mischaracterization and even demonization of Muslims, these terms need to be explored and clarified. In the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, public discourse in the United States about Islam has been especially prominent, aimed either at increasing understanding, or toward eliminating any positive associations with the world religion espoused by roughly one fifth of humanity, including at least five million Americans. Speculation and policy by pundits and politicians have targeted “Islamic education” as a possible “cause” of so-called “Islamic radicalism” or “Islamic terrorism.” Accordingly, various recommendations and measures have been contemplated to reform Islamic education in the United States and overseas. At a minimum, public discussion should build on a foundation of accuracy and differentiated discourse, since attempts to reform what is poorly understood are bound to fail or backfire.
Focusing on the American context, the purpose of this article is
- to explore terminology related to Islam and provide guidelines to clarify its use in internal and external discourses;
- to chart out a typology of expressions of Islamic education in various institutions;
- to develop more accurate definitions that can help to bridge differences between public discourses about Islamic education among Americans and among Muslims; and
- to illuminate concepts of education that are associated with Islam and Muslim educational traditions and to identify parallels with concepts that have also been associated with Western educational and cultural values.