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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

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thanks for the Feedback on a
Related Matter of Civility and Consistency

I received the following email today. I've changed the names, but it comes from the biggest university around. I have no objection to the seminar and value that it has been communicated to me. It did strike me as ironic, however, that such a seminar is being offered by a school that like all its "state" counterparts (my daughters attend and can attest to it) employs hundreds of "neutral" professors who feel it's their duty to belittle individuals whose faith is based on the Bible and make sport of thinking Christian students whose faith occasionally shows itself in the classroom.

Here's where I need your help. I've written a "professional" reply below the green text of the email. I think it makes a valid point in a kind way, but I could be wrong. Am I being a jerk? Is the observation fair? (i.e. do you know of examples where Christians are treated like idiots by their college professors?) Am I being too vague? My intent in not to "blast" but to help point out an inconsistency.

I'm going to sleep on it and decide whether to "hit send" in the morning. I don't want another Neal Cavuto experience. Your input is welcome. The reply may look long as a "post" but it's only one standard page of letterhead.

First the email about the seminar; then my reply....

Subject: Teaching about Islam: a workshop for K-12 teachers

Dear Principal or superintendent.

This notice is to let you know about an exciting FREE 5 day workshop the Asian Studies Center at "State" U is putting on for teachers. The workshop is "Teaching about Islam" and will cover both the present situation (terrorism, women's issues, the Sharia, etc) and the history of Islam with an eye towards helping teachers understand and teach this material in their courses. The workshop will run for 5 days, from [month] 25 to [month] 29, each day from 9:00am to 4;00pm with an hour break for lunch and two coffee breaks in between. The seminar will be held in the international Center at "State" U and free parking passes will be issued to participants. In addition to the seminar, teachers will receive a copy of the book "Islam the Straight Path" by John Esposito as well as other teaching materials. The workshop will taught by Mohammad Hassain Khabil who is completing his doctorate in Islamic Studies at University of Wolverine in May. the workshop flyer and application form are on this website.

[Link to website with brochure was shown here. The daily agenda included: Introduction to Islam; Muhammad: the Prophet of Islam;The Qur’an; Islam after Muhammad;Islamic intellectual history from law to Islamic mysticism;The pillars of Islam, rituals and holidays; Islamic civilization, etc. the Muslim world after the Crusades. Islam and violence; Gender in Islam, and Muslim feminism]

Please let your teachers know about this exciting opportunity State board
CEUs are being arranged for the workshop)

Thank you so much for your assistance
[person's name]

Assistant Director ...[department name]

Dear [person's name],

Thank you for the invitation to "State" U's seminar on religious sensitivity toward Islam in the classroom. We welcome numerous Asian students to our school each year and are aware of this topic's importance. Participants will be glad to know State Board CEU's will be awarded. That is rare when the entire agenda supports understanding one specific religion.

Having read the PDF brochure, the lectures will promote respect for Islam, the Koran, and one would assume, the exemplary treatment of students whose faith actually affects how they live. To be on the safe side, however, I'd like to make sure this is true as I consider promoting it.

Will this seminar help prevent teachers from belittling the personal religious beliefs of Islamic students? I trust it would not encourage teachers to mock Islamic students for bringing "their parents' religion" with them to a place of higher education. Will teachers leave this seminar feeling it's their duty to open the minds of Islamic students? Will the required text "Islam the Straight Path" tempt teachers to say that a "narrow way" is only for "narrow minds"? One would hope not, but I've heard that said of Christians so often that I thought I should ask.

If the seminar sessions are subtly designed to help teachers poke holes in Islam, or twist the quotations of its prophet, or question the Islamic student's need for "God," daily prayer, etc, I won’t promote it. If anything about this seminar will result in teachers teasing Islamic students or putting them "on the spot" to repeatedly defend their minority beliefs simply because they are not shared by the majority of their peers, that's a poor model for classroom dialogue. If any seminar material could later be used to convey to Islamic students that their "morality" is from an out-dated book and has no place in a tolerant society, I’d question how “tolerant” that is.

On the other hand, if Dr. Mohammad Hassain Khabil's 5-day lecture series will help teachers see how wrong it is to treat people of faith as if they are less than intelligent, I can support that. The brochure says, "Each teacher will be asked to create a teaching module or lesson plan on Islam…" and that the week "is designed to give classroom teachers a good foundation in Islam and to help them integrate understanding about this often misrepresented religion into their classes."

Sounds reasonable. For far too long, America's irreverent elite have declared open season on “believers.” Thank you, "State" U, for hosting a seminar that denounces misrepresenting people of conviction simply because they believe some things are right and some things are wrong. I'm confident that Dr. Khabil will help foster a respect for the Koran in academia that is often not extended to the Bible.

Speaking of which, please also send me any information you have on seminars that may help college professors develop this same sensitivity to all students of faith. Does "State" U (or Dr Khabil's U of Wolverine) offer seminars that address showing respect for articulate Christian students who occasionally speak or write about a topic from a biblical perspective? When are the dates? If possible, I'd like to help promote both the Islamic and the Christian sensitivity seminars. If there is no such seminar, that may explain the apparent disconnect between the worthy goals of this seminar for K-12 teachers and the insensitive “treatment” shown to practicing Christians in college lecture halls across the land.

Thank you for making this information available to us. I will pass it along to my teachers. The seminar falls on the week of my daughter's wedding, and I cannot attend. I genuinely wish every educator in the state could attend a seminar that promotes the civil treatment of people of faith. We can only hope that the thousands of Michigan teachers who don't attend will not follow the example of those college professors who have zero tolerance for faith-based world views expressed in their classrooms.

Your personal response is welcome. My purpose in responding at length is only to better understand Academia’s treatment of people whose faith is very evident in their formative thinking.
[My name and position here.]


Blogger Nancy said...

Amen, I applaud you! As a former public school teacher, I agree with every single word and wish that I had the ability to articulate this as well as you did. Hit "send" immediately or if it is going by "snail mail" send it priority mail now! You are awesome! I may come out of retirement and head to Michigan to teach for you... I understand y'all pay more up there! Go TOM!

25/4/07 4:02 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

After reading through the letter and your response, I would encourage you to 'hit send'. =) I'd love an update as to what your decision is in the end, in regards to this email. And should you get a response back...I'd love for you to post that too.

25/4/07 4:29 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

My best advice, I would say pray about it. But personally I think it sounds good would love to see if and how they respond. :)

25/4/07 5:59 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Tom, I've been thinking about your letter, and probably too much. You are going to know better than me what to do. But here is my opinion.

If I understand this correctly, your letter would be going to someone at the Asian Studies Center. Your letter has validity. I am well aware of what is happening in our culture regarding the treatment of Christians especially fundamentalists. Liberal Christians are more likely to get a free pass in our culture. But I do not know how much impact your letter can have since it would be going to someone at the Asian Studies Center. I believe I would send it anyway, but I think I would soften it just a little.

If it were me and I was writing it, I would look at my letter as a way to sow a seed of thought, that being our culture could use some sensitivity training when it comes to all people of faith but especially Christians who seem to get the bulk of the bashing and ridicule.

To be honest, I would like to see religious studies (the major religions) become a part of high school and college curriculum and a required course to take in both instances. Part of the problem is that many people are ignorant about religion, religious beliefs, and the history involved. Ignorance breeds fear.

Of more interest to me, if I were you, would be the workshop itself. I would sign up for it so that I could find out for myself what it is about. Probably it was Dr. Mohammad Hassan Khalil who contacted the University and the Asian Studies Center about sponsoring this workshop. I would be curious as to his reasons. Thirty people taking the workshop is a small number indeed. Maybe this is his way of testing the waters to see if something larger would pay off. I would try to strike up conversations with him in the workshop to find out his take on our culture and the way people of faith are treated.

Well, this is my opinion. I hope I haven't overstepped the boundaries in any way.

25/4/07 6:15 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for the helpful input so far.

thanks for understanding the frustration of my hearing endless reports of reasonable students of faith (not offensive, in your face, zealots) being shot down and belittled time after time by four-mouthed professors who consider it their job to persecute those who have dared step in the lion's den.

I'm leaning toward "send." I've already tweaked it even since you commented. I took down the link to the brochure because it mentioned the university name, but the agenda includes"

Introduction to Islam; Muhammad: the Prophet of Islam
The Qur’an; Islam after Muhammad
Islamic intellectual history from law to Islamic mysticism
The pillars of Islam, rituals and holidays
Islamic civilization, etc.
Islam, Christendom, and the crusades; the Muslim world after the Crusades.
Islam and violence
Gender in Islam, and Muslim feminism

Welcome, first timer. Good advice. When I say "sleep on it" it always includes prayer. I don't want to be a jerk. This person sent an invitation to every school in the state. I don't want to seem ungratful to be included.

Thanks for the thoughtful counsel. You'll notice I've already changed it a bit, but it still raises a legitimate contrast of treatment. Because I interact with Asian students everyday, I feel comfortable presenting this concern to the director of Asian Studies.
My intent is to speak against any time a teacher in a place of "power" belittles genuinely held religious beliefs of a student.
As you know, I am aware of the term "fundamentalist" (both in Islam and in American revivalism)and while I don't fit that category, I do think that the adversarial college professors I mention like to paint all "Christians" (especially those of conservative political/evangelical stripe)with that pejoritive term. The students I'm talking about are not like that, but let's face it, even if they were... they would deserve the same tolerance extended to Islamic or Hindu or Buddhist students on campuses.

What's good for the goose is good for the Gandhi. That's a little joke.

I can't go to the week-long class due to my daughter's wedding that week.(see revision) But I must confess, I'm well informed on the topic of Islam and doubt I'd opt to spend a late-June week three hours (rather than three minutes) away from Lake Michigan.

Hope the changes seem reasonable.

More input welcome

25/4/07 8:00 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

I think your letter pretty much describes to the promoters of this program that you would be inclined to promote it yourself if faith were taken seriously by all.

Your wording is strong and to the point but that is OK. Strong wording is sometimes needed and yours are appropriate I believe for the situation.

25/4/07 8:02 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, J_G,
I've been thinking about why this even matters to me. I think it is clearly somewhat of a symbolic response on my part because this little seminar is probably considered commendable in may respects.
I just cannot get over the irony of the very same State Board that by law asks K-12 teachers to "keep God out of it" when it comes to church and state matters in the classroom, the same State Board that told a Catholic teacher friend of mine she could not wear the "Ash Wednesday" cross on her forehead... The same State Board that told my sister she could not have a Precious Moments Nativity set on her desk at Christmas... this same Board is suddenly giving CEUs for a class promoting the "fair" teaching of Islam and the Koran in K-12 public schools.
I read recently that Americans practicing "Jewish" population is only 1%--the same as the current Islamic population (with a huge portion of that population in our state). Yet the 10 Commandments are forbidden from public walls at the same time we seem to endorse this class and its text: "Islam the Straight Path."
See what I mean? So this is more than a single email and response to me. Like SQ said, I'd like to help one person see the inconsistency of our PC trends.

25/4/07 9:20 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I totally support your letter. I definately think you should send it off. Hopefully, it does not fall on deaf ears, or blind eyes as the case may be.

I have very often wondered why freedom of religion enforced for all but Christianity. It is the foundation of this country and yet every day something else is removed or challenged. I wonder how many teachers would question a muslim students faith the way they do when they speak of evolution vs. creation. I'm sure most would not. I believe I attended the college you are speaking of, maybe not as I don't know where your middle daughter attends. But it it is the other, I have had/witnessed run-ins with many professors who refuse to even consider what the Bible says. They just flat out say your wrong or belittle one who may be so bold as to suggest something even close to Christianity as a reason or argument.

On the flip-side I once had a conversation with an elementary school teacher who is a friend and she told of a story where she asked a simple question along the lines of-"what is your favorite part of Christmas?" One student raised thier hand and replied " Going to our church Christmas play"
One little boy who was from another country (I can't remember where)asked what this was all about? The teacher let the other child explain freely and soon the whole class was talking amongst themselves about Jesus and the meaning of Christmas. The teacher, being a christian herself, just stood back and did not say a word. She had been SHE could not talk about religion, so she just sat back and things happen. I just thought that was so cool. I am sure that while some parents may have objected, there had to be few who were warmed that the message had just gotten out to 20 some children. I would have to imagine that at least 1 or 2 will always remember that day as the first time they heard about Christ.

So anyway, back to the point, I love your bold, heartfelt, honesty . I think it is very needed in todays society. Sorry, for being so wordy!


25/4/07 10:25 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for the input. You are correct about "school law" applying differently to teachers (state employees) and students. For instance, a teacher cannot have a Bible on his/her desk even if she/he never opens it, but students on the other hand can. Teachers who take this seminar, I'm guessing, could have and use a Koran in the classroom.
In any discussion on this topic, there are countless examples of teachers remaining true to their faith in the public classroom. The question is not whether there are "church-state" violations below the radar. I'm thankful that many reasonable things still happen in the classroom, that administrators often don't over-react, and that reasonable parents don’t see it as a problem. The question is what would "hold up" in court if a parent with “standing” wanted to accept funding from the ACLU and sue a district for something a teacher did that promoted a religion.
For instance, that one discussion in your friend’s class may not be an issue because it was student-led, but if it began happening on a regular basis under her watch, she could be accused of prompting it. On the other hand, your friend can sign up for this seminar in June to learn how to introduce her students to Islam. No problems there.
That is the inconsistency as I and many other school administrators see it.

25/4/07 11:07 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Tom, I like your revised letter much better. Actually the wording in it is much stronger and it is more to the point than was the case in your first letter it seems to me.

Even though your letter may reach only the one person at the Asian Studies Center, it is the principle of the thing that matters. If the university can offer a workshop on Islam which encourages the teaching of it in the classroom for sensitivity purposes, then there should be a workshop on Christianity, too, with the same idea in mind. What's good for the goose.....

Who makes these strict rules about religious symbols such as "can't display ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday if you are a teacher?" It is my understanding that school boards make them out of fear of being sued. I have read that the ACLU is responsible for creating this fear in the education community. Is this true? Whatever happened to our freedom of religion?

26/4/07 12:13 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You are correct in that districts have a say deciding how strictly such things will be enforced or "worried about." I am confident that in some districts an "Ash Wednesday" cross on the forehead would not be "worried about" even though it does not fit into the "legal" definition of say "personal jewelry." I once asked a school law professor if the Hindu "Bindi" would be allowed on an Indian (Asian Indian) teacher.


He simply said, "Good Question."
The ACLU has been behind many of the most "newsworthy" cases, but in order for them to get involved, they can only represent a parent or student with "standing." They can't just say, "We heard you have a Christian teacher who shares a Proverb from the Bible each Friday." They have no "standing" until they can find a parent who is upset about the proverb. Then they represent that family. It is that "what if possibility" that prompts some of the extreme positions in districts. Strangely it is that same "what if we offend a lesser represented religious group" [such as Islam] that makes the pendulum swing so far the other way in these cases.

26/4/07 5:51 AM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, you're my hero. We need more people like you who an actually "put their money with their mouth is". Please send the letter, either e-mail or snail mail, and I would copy the head of the university, and anyone else who has any input with regard to academic programs. It couldn't hurt, either, to send a copy of the offered program and a copy of your response to your local newspaper. The media needs to get involved.

I am so tired of the political correctness towards other faiths and the disparaging of Christianity. It's out of control and it needs to be stopped. It all started out by well-meaning folks trying to be all-inclusive, but that doesn't mean excluding Christianity.

Please keep us posted.


26/4/07 9:37 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I admire your passion on this topic and the comments have been insightful. My bible study group talked about Chrisian persecution this week and honestly I never felt persecuted in the classroom (of course I live in the Bible belt). I allowed student discussion on happenings at Church (like a previous commenter said), and often student's would bring Church related items for show-and-tell prompting discussion. My classic statement was "do you have anything else to tell us about that..." and of course a 6 year old will go on and on. I even closed my eyes, bowed my head, and prayed silently many times during the day. One day I even had to go out the outside door of my classroom, get on my knees, and PRAY! By the way, my prayers were answered that day.

I think what has impressed me the most about all of this... your compassion on the subject, for your teachers, and for the students. The bottom line... treat others the way you want to be treated.

26/4/07 9:40 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

that was the word I was trying to think of last night!
As you know, there is little point in going toe to toe in the current environment. The media would label any such person raising these questions as intolerant. That is not the case. We are a pluralistic society. I know that. Time will tell if it can long endure under the circumstances. Oh, how I hope it can remain a city shining on a hill. I know that may sound corny (reading it in Canada) but I consider our two countries very co-dependent when it comes to "way of life" issues. If you fall, we fall and so forth.

As you know the "red states" in the Bible belt take a lot of guff, but it's not surprising that your experience was less adversarial. It does depend largely on the district, the ACLU does not pick fights where they know local public opinion will "mash 'em."
I would be hard-pressed to call this recent "unfairness" true persecution but that day may come.

Fresh comments here are still welcome. I've decided to keep these posts open for now along with the follow-up post. Sorry that it interrupted our series. Part IV is still in the wings. Actually, this interruption ties in well with it.

26/4/07 6:37 PM  

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