When a mom discovered what her teen’s seventh-grade teacher had given her child at school, she sent the educator something back that the teacher was probably not expecting. The California mom posted about the circumstance on Facebook, opening up a massive debate about who was really in the wrong — the mom or the educator.
Tara Cali posted a photograph of her response to her son’s homework assignment about Islam, but she probably wasn’t expecting it to create so much discussion. The Bakersfield mother wrote a reply on her son’s homework sheet on the subject of “Islamic Beliefs and Practices,” and she posted a picture of her disapproval to the Facebook page of local news station KGET.
The World History class assignment required seventh graders to list the five pillars of Islam, which include charitable giving, prayer, fasting, faith, and holy pilgrimage. The homework assignment included a bar code that allowed students to listen to a YouTube video of the call to prayer at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
California’s state-wide curriculum allows religions to be taught only in the context of history. Tara Cali feels the Islamic lesson plan doesn’t stay within those parameters. Her issue isn’t with Islam but rather how it’s being taught. In her opinion, the school is showing favoritism to Islam over Christianity and other religions.
Instead of listing the 5 Pillars of Islam, Tara got a little creative with her answer. “My son WILL not be a part of this in any sort of way. This is bad teaching material. He will NOT partake. If you have a problem with it, call our lawyer,” Tara wrote. After listing several Bible verses to support her stance on the matter, Tara asked a question at the bottom of the page. “How about Christian practices? That sheet has never come home, this year or last!” she stated.
The textbook used across California covers the fall of Ancient Rome through the Age of Enlightenment. The textbook also includes chapters on the historical prominence of various world religions, including Christianity. So, why has Tara never seen an assignment on Christian beliefs and practices? We can only speculate.
After encountering some critics on social media, Tara further explained that she took issue with Qur’an scripture that is included in the textbook and homework. “It isn’t the assignment itself, it is the context of the school book that upsets me,” she says. “There are two pages of straight Qur’an scripture and then the various worksheets have scripture at the top. If a Mormon child, Christian child, or Buddhist child brought their book of faith to school, the uproar would have been insane.”
David Barkley, Southeastern Area & National Religious Freedom Counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, said that as long as religion is being taught from a secular manner, it’s permissible. “Schools can teach about religion, but they can’t indoctrinate religion,” he said. “To teach about Islam, you have to teach about what Muslim people believe and what the faith teaches. As long as you are not saying, ‘this is a valid religious belief’ or ‘this is the truth,’ then it is constitutionally permissible.”
Some parents may take issue with any religious teaching, but Barkley says that schools have every right to teach students about religion. “If your class is World History, Islam is a part of that, just like Christianity is and Judaism is and Hinduism is,” Barkley said. “How can you teach that history without saying that this is the belief system?”
However, Tara Cali and her supporters would argue that Christianity is being scrubbed from the public education system and that students are being force-fed Islam through lessons disguised as history, warming kids up through their school years to accept Islam. “My concern is that we are on a fast slope to removing God from all parts of the educational system but we are quickly inserting other’s Gods,” Tara explained. “It needs to be all or nothing. Equality of religion is important.”
Tara is concerned that Christianity is being underrepresented while Islam is getting favorable treatment in the classroom. She wants the school to get new textbooks. “I don’t believe my religion or [anyone’s] should be overshadowed by another’s,” she said. “My intention is to bring light to this situation that our books make no sense. History teachers are not qualified to teach religion. Scripture doesn’t belong in public schools. If we are going to have it, then I want all of it.”