As the Cobb school district recovers from public backlash over teaching materials some parents deemed pro-Islam, the woman who oversees the curriculum insists it "is balanced and comprehensive," and explained how such materials are selected.
Last week, the curriculum came under fire when parent Hal Medlin complained that an assignment given to his seventh-grade child at Campbell Middle School was "slanted positively towards Islam."
The unidentified teacher had asked students to outline the pros and cons of school uniforms in comparison to Muslim women's dress.
Area superintendent Dale Gaddis said the materials, which included a letter from a woman who is explains why she is "proud and happy" to be Muslim and a list of seven conditions for women's dress in Islam, "could have been served in a better way."
Pam Dingle, the district's curriculum director, said, "This teacher is not the only teacher teaching this content. It is in the content curriculum standards for all seventh-graders in the state of Georgia."
Seventh-graders spend two weeks studying the Middle East, Dingle said.
"Students do not spend 12 to 13 weeks on this one topic," she said. "It is part of a broader unit in looking at African and Asian culture throughout the year."
According to the standard curriculum, "The student will describe the diverse cultures of the people who live in Southwest Asia (Middle East) … Compare and contrast the prominent religions in Southwest Asia (Middle East: Judaism, Islam and Christianity."
Similar content is also taught in at least two other seventh-grade courses, human geography and world geography, Dingle said, and discussions about Islamic culture may surface in world history, ethnic studies, government, gifted comparative religion and current issues, as well as multicultural literature and world literature.
"This unit carried out its intended purpose to teach about the three religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) and make a comparison of their elements," Dingle said.
Different middle-school grades study different areas of the world in social studies, Dingle said.
Sixth graders study Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Canadian culture and government.
Seventh graders study Africa and Asia. And eighth graders study Georgia history.
"The bulk of the social-studies curriculum is focused on United States history," Dingle said. "Students in K-5, with the exception of Georgia studies in second-grade, learn about the United States. Middle school students spend two years on world studies — the Middle East is one of many regions students learn about.
"Students revisit U.S. history again in eighth-grade but through the lens of Georgia studies. High school students are required to take U.S. history, world history, economics, and American government. The curriculum is balanced and comprehensive," Dingle said.
As for how the district polices material distributed to students, Dingle said, "If there is such a thing as an effort to 'police' curriculum, it certainly begins with the school district. In fact, the process is very thorough."
First, a 10-member committee including teachers, a technology specialist and one parent or college faculty member looks at the materials multiple times as a team and individually.
Next, social studies materials for all grades, K-12, are delivered to six schools, where teachers, parents and administrators can review and evaluate the committee's top selection of materials. This year's materials were sent to the sites on Jan. 18.
In accordance with Administrative Rule IJJ, the public is notified of the review of opportunity on the district's website, and through school committees and the communication department's monthly board e-mail. Principals are also requested to advertise the review opportunity through school marquees, PTA newsletters and school councils.
The materials are also displayed for 10 business days at the district's central office, and feedback forms were collected.
Following board approval, if a parent objects to a textbook or some material used in a classroom, a parent/guardian can ask for a "re-review" of the material by the curriculum review committee by submitting form IJK-3, which can be downloaded from the district's website.