Saturday, December 19, 2015

Calligraphy Assignment Involving Shahada Leads To Early Winter Break For Virginia Students

As reported by CNN, on Thursday afternoon Augusta County, Virginia school officials shut down all the schools a day early for winter break after information about a World Religion assignment handed out a week earlier received broad coverage and triggered threats to the school system.  At issue was an assignment in a high school world geography course-- taken from a standard workbook, World Religions, first published in 1995-- that was designed to acquaint students with Arabic calligraphy. The workbook assignment said:
Since Islam forbids idolatry, mosques are decorated with calligraphy rather than human or animal figures.... Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic.  In the space below, try copying it by hand.  This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.
On Tuesday, the Augusta County School superintendent issued a press release explaining the assignment after some parents expressed concern to him.  As reported by Al Jazeera, high school parent Kimberly Herndon, one of the main objectors, posted a call on her Facebook page for the teacher involved to be fired because "she had [students] write an abomination to their faith and causes a little girl to cry herself to sleep because she was worried she had denounced her God."  Herndon accused the teacher of attempting to indoctrinate students "into a religion of hate."  In a press release on Thursday, the school superintendent announced:
Following parental objections to the World Geography curriculum and ensuing related media coverage, the school division began receiving voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area. As a result of those communications, the Sheriff’s Office and the school division coordinated to increase police presence at Augusta County schools and to monitor those communications. The communications have significantly increased in volume today and based on concerns regarding the tone and content of those communications, Sheriff Fisher and Dr. Bond mutually decided schools and school offices will be closed on Friday, December 18, 2015.
This was followed up by an additional press release yesterday. Perhaps ironically, the early closure of schools apparently resulted in the cancellation of a number of Christmas programs, including choir and band concerts, scheduled for yesterday which students had been preparing for some time.