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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Interesting Follow-up on Civility and Consistency

After reading your Wednesday night feedback about that day's e-mail, I tweaked the reply (see post below) and sent it this morning. Within the hour I received this polite reply. I could not follow up on it until after school. In fairness to this person, it is possible she may have “read” only the rhetorical concern of my first email, missing the deeper issue. I have again deleted or altered (only by a few letters) the names involved. My issue is not with them. You all understand that, and I appreciate the civil nature of your suggestions on the real matter at hand. It’s possible that I should send these observations to someone up the collegiate food chain.

Thursday's E-Mail Reply...
Re: Teaching about Islam: a workshop for K-12 teachers

Dear Tom:
Thank you for your letter. The seminar is designed to promote respect and understanding for all persons and to give teachers the tools to understand Islam and to counter the negative views found in our media.
Mohammad Khabil is not only an expert in Islamic studies but is a practicing Muslim himself and I have talked to him at length and he is concerned about how Islam is represented in our schools.

Rest assured that we mutual promote respect and understanding between all religions.
The book we are giving to the teachers is one of the two best introductions to Islam by a noted scholar in the field and it non-biased and non-judgmental and tries to explain Islam from the point of view of those who practise it.

We would welcome any of your teachers into the workshop.
Sincerely, [Name] Assistant Director ...[department name]

My response for clarify the real issue:

Dear [person's name],
Thank you for your prompt reply. I hope you're having a nice day in spite of this rain. I admire your eagerness “to give teachers the tools to understand Islam and to counter the negative views found in our media.” I think America needs constant reminders that there is no cause to fear the radical Islamic views seen in videos like “Obsession.”

We fervently pray that the freedoms enjoyed by Americans—those same freedoms that allow Islamic sensitivity seminars in our schools—will soon be modeled with “Appreciating America’s Religious Foundation” seminars in Islamic schools in the Middle East. Wouldn’t that be great!

Wouldn’t it be great if Mohammad Hassain Khabil's could fly in a non-American-educated female professor from Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan to teach the section on “Muslim feminism”? That would be powerful. Maybe next summer.

I do appreciate the clarification of your seminar's goals, and trust you’ll allow me to clarify my deeper concern. You and I are expressing two different but very worthy topics for discussion among educators. Your topic is “Teaching Islam in our schools.” My topic is the clash of the ideals of your seminar with the realities of unequal opportunity for free religious expression.
Let me explain:

As a practicing Muslim, Dr. Mohammad Hassain Khabil, will be allowed to add personal insights from his faith in each lesson he teaches. On the afternoon tour of the mosque near the campus, he will be free to speak from his personal experience. The K-12 teachers he will be teaching, however, are NOT allowed to do that. As you know they are forbidden to speak of their own faith in the classroom. They could never take their class on a field trip to their church. After attending your seminar, they will be applauded for sharing their Muslim professor’s faith next fall but still scolded if they talk about their own. There's the rub.

I was glad to hear you say that the book “Islam the Straight Path” is “non-biased…and tries to explain Islam from the point of view of those who practice it.” I only wish that one of countless expert Christian educators could come to "State" U and teach a five-day seminar with a non-biased text like “A Case for Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis or “A Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel, each of which “tries to explain [Christianity] from the point of view of those who practice it”
(as you put it).

After sharing the textbook, this Christian lecturer could have a session that focuses on the endless negative Christian stereotypes found in the media. (Think about how often you see a “Christian” portrayed as a corrupt preacher or obnoxious Bible-thumper or “nut” in a film, sit-com, or “reality TV.” The Christians I know are neither “Ned Flanders” or Jules Winnfield (from Pulp Fiction who quotes Ezekiel 25:17, each time he kills someone).

The Christians I know are obviously nothing like that. They are intelligent, caring individuals who strive to follow the teachings of arguably the most influential “teacher” who ever lived. But Hollywood would rather depict modern Christians as the misguided leaders of Salem, Massachusetts, than the brilliant minds behind our Constitution and our judicial system (the very foundations that allow a Mosque to be built near your campus and for Dr. Mohammad Hassain Khabil to teach our teachers how to teach Islam in our public classrooms).

Likewise Christian students on college campuses like yours are “put down” mercilessly until they reach the point of sitting mute in class while their professor tears apart their deeply held beliefs.

Do you see the Irony? That is the source of frustration among many administrators. Thank you for not taking this personally, but if the leaders you serve in academia do not see the cause of this valid frustration, it will take far more than five-day seminars to bridge the “religious divide” as we proceed toward these shared goals.

Thank you for your time. I realize I may be addressing the wrong person, but I welcome additional discussion. Perhaps I should direct my thoughts to another department or person. If so, rest assured that your polite response to this and the previous email was appreciated.
Thank you for considering these thoughts,
I've already sent this follow up. Maybe it will prompt some mutually beneficial thinking.

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Blogger SusieQ said...

Tom, let me be the first to applaud you on your response letter to this person and your superb articulation of the real issue.

I do think you should write to someone higher up at the university about this whole thing.

In fact, I wish you would write to some newspaper (opinions of the people) about it. You might even end up with a one time column. I suggest the Chicago Tribune.

26/4/07 5:50 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

"Ditto" to all that SusieQ said! May God bless you for all of your effort.

26/4/07 6:47 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

SQ and Nancy,
Thanks for your input and kind words. I do think someone beyond this assistant in this department needs to think about this. I may look on the web site to see who to send it to at the university. I'm really not looking for "conflict." This just seems so obvious to me. I feel like were in a Twilight Zone version of "The Emperor’s New Clothes" and pretty soon we're all going to say, "Hey, wait a minute. Something's missing... It's gettin' chilly!"

The bar editors set for bumping a "Letter to the Editor" to "guest column" is very high. I have been given the honor once a few years back (during the Clinton years). I'll consider it, but for right now, I'm encouraged to know the "Teaching Islam in the K-12 Classroom" seminar struck a similar nerve with other readers and that my need to say "ouch" was shared.

26/4/07 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came back for Part IV, but this is very interesting. I don't see how teachers put up with some of these rules imposed on them. I am thinking back to most of my teachers and I'm not sure they "had faith" so they may not care. But some of them I knew were Christians and they would have to stop right in the middle of a thought because they knew they would get in trouble for saying something about God or whatever. Why is it now okay to teach Islam in our schools but not a teachers own religions? How publicized is this email you received? I do think you should help raise the question in paper or radio call in show. If you do not do it who will?

26/4/07 9:17 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, I agree with the others, as I said in your last post, you need to take this higher up, and you need to go to the media. Believe me, there are people out there would would be very interested in this. And no one has been able to state the case better than you have.

The problem is, the course on Islam sets a precedent, and pretty soon it will be taught everywhere while Christianity will continue to be suppressed.

What's wrong with this picture?

27/4/07 12:40 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

Tom this is a well thought out and pricisely worded response that hits at the very heart of the matter. Teachers and professors stifle learning when they exclude Christian teachings and principles. Your words should be taken to heart by teachers but it goes far deeper as you know. Anti-Christian bigotry has become part and parcel of acedemia and a complete change in culture needs to take place in order that this bigotry be turned around. Never stop trying to change it though. Your vioce and words are a strong remedy to those that would exclude and deny Christians or others of faith a full education and along with it, a lesson in respect.

27/4/07 6:38 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You make a good point. There is a high percentage of teachers who this will not impact, and that's fine. I'm guessing every principle and superintendent in the state got this e-mail invitation. I'm impressed that you asked one of the questions from Part I. =)

If I do anything more "public" with these ideas, I will have to stress that I'm not opposed to the seminar being offered. No administrator in any district can afford to be labeled intolerant. That word is used to "poison the well" rendering any valid thoughts unworthy of consideration.
You are right. There is a type of bigotry that is considered acceptable among those who "don't need faith" toward those consider it a part of normal life. Those who live by a set of "standards" are labeled as "intolerant," a word used to "poison the well" rendering any valid thoughts he or she may have as unworthy of consideration.

27/4/07 8:44 PM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Tom, just read your email but only on Saturday as I was away. I couldn't find your comment on my blog but that doesn't matter.

I think you are absolutely correct about the stand that you are taking. Teaching about religion is not the same as preaching to convert but all religions should be taught.

Malaysia is an Islamic country although the freedom of other religions are enshrined in the constitution. nevertheless, Islamic leaders have been constantly reducing that freedom. When I was at school, all religions are taught. Today, no longer.

However, Islam is taught to all in subjects like Moral Studies. Children at school assambly of all religions are in some schools forced to take part in Islamic prayers at school assembly (just as once Catholic Missions schools did for Christian Prayers). Non-muslims can take up Islamic studies but Muslims cannot study any other religion. Increasingly Christian school children are not allowed to have meetings in schools on the pretext that it excludes Malays who are Muslim and by law not allowed to attend such meetings. Since Muslims cannot attend, such meetings are deemed to be against promoting racial harmony and are not allowed. However, Muslim students can meet and have their meetings which although are almost 100% Malay only, is not deemed racist as they do not explicitly stop any race from attending.

The practice in many Muslim Countries, is that a muslim is forbidden to read about any other religion.

Keep fighting the trend in USA. Teach all religions. Learning is about seeking the truth. How can someone seek truth if they never get to see all the facts?

God bless,

28/4/07 9:54 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I replied to this via email, but I wanted to summarize those thoughts here. This is very helpful information. I did pass it along to the person in charge of the "Teaching Islam" seminar. I began the email by saying it was not my intent to prolong the discussion (she had been more than patient with me), but I wanted to give her some food for thought when she had guest from Malaysia to talk about "Muslim feminism." Perhaps, she can ask this Michigan resident how likely it would be that the K-12 schools in Malaysia and other Muslim countries would be teaching "Christianity" to their kids. I wonder if those same countries are concerned about the treatment of Christians and Jews on El Jazeera TV (since correcting negative media toward Islam is one of the goals of the workshop).

10/5/07 7:18 PM  

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