Parents in a Nashville suburb expressed alarm this week because their middle school children are learning about Islam in a world history class but, they say, the school is pointedly ignoring Christianity.
Brandee Porterfield, who has a seventh-grade daughter at Spring Hill Middle School in Spring Hill, Tenn., said her daughter came home with world history schoolwork all about the Five Pillars of Islam and other core teachings of the Abrahamic religion.
Specifically, according to Spring Hill Home Page, Porterfield said her daughter's world history project was based around the Five Pillars. The first and most important pillar — the shahada in Arabic — is roughly translated as: "There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God."
Porterfield said her daughter's teacher instructed the girl to write: "Allah is the only God."
Porterfield's position is that she understands that knowledge of Islam is necessary to understand world history. Her concern is the omission of Christianity, she told The Daily Herald, a newspaper out of nearby Columbia, Tenn.
"I have big problem with that. From a historical point of view, that's a lot of history these kids are missing," Porterfield explained. "Also, for them to spend three weeks on Islam after having skipped Christianity, it seems to be that they are making a choice about which religion to discuss."
The mad mom said her daughter's teacher explained that knowledge of the fundamentals of Islam is mandated by Tennessee's education standards.
Porterfield talked to the teacher about the situation, according to Spring Hill Home Page. Porterfield said the teacher "was not happy about" having to focus on Islam and skip Christianity but felt she had no choice but to teach to the government-mandated standards.
Other Spring Hill Middle School parents are also upset about local kids writing "Allah is the only God" as part of a taxpayer-funded school assignment.
"To me, a Christian child should not be made to write that," Joy Ellis, another seventh-grade mother, told the Herald.
"I honestly don't want my child learning about Islam at all, but if they've got to learn about it, I would like for them to learn about the historical aspects of it and definitely nothing about the religion."
Public schools should definitely teach Christianity as long as they are going to teach other major religions, Ellis argued, because the United States is an overwhelmingly Christian nation.
In Tennessee, 81 percent of the residents identify as Christian, according to a 2014 Pew poll. About one percent of Volunteer State residents call themselves Muslim. (RELATED: Tennessee Elementary School Lifts Fatwa Against Pork After Parents Complain)
In their defense, school district officials have observed that world history is hard to teach without giving students some basic understanding of religions.
Jan Hanvey, the Maury County Public Schools middle school supervisor, said telling students about the Five Pillars of Islam is a one-day segment of the seventh-grade curriculum (as opposed to Porterfield's contention of three weeks) and is intended to give students a richer perspective.
"It's part of history," Hanvey proclaimed to the Herald. "Children need to know the 'why,' and they need to be able to learn and know where to find the facts, instead of going by what they hear or what they see on the Internet."
Students also study Buddhism and Hinduism, the former social studies teacher noted.
However, it appears that Tennessee students don't study Christianity per se. There is not, for example, one class day dedicated to the basic Jesus story.
Hanvey promised that students would eventually come across a reference to Christianity when history teachers reach the "Age of Exploration" in eighth grade. Then, students will hear about Christians persecuting other Christians in some countries in Western Europe.
In an email to the Herald, Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman insisted in an email that Tennessee public schools cover every major religion in sixth and seventh grades.
On Thursday, Maury County Public Schools director Chris Marczak published a fairly eloquent statement on Facebook concerning the fracas over seventh graders learning the Five Pillars of Islam.
"Our teachers work together to make sure that our students are learning what is expected through the Tennessee academic standards," the schools chief explained. "For this last section on the Islamic World this past week, our educators had students complete an assignment that had an emphasis on Islamic Faith. The assignment covered some sensitive topics that are of importance to Islamic religion and caused some confusion around whether we are asking students to believe in or simply understand the religion. It is our job as a public school system to educate our students on world history in order to be ready to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate."
Marczak also encouraged "all Maury County parents to be their child's first and main teacher."
The superintendent's words did not placate everyone.
"Instead of being responsible and solving the concerns of the parents regarding Islam, the school board and the new director of schools is passing on their responsibility to principals," area resident Bob Crigger told Spring Hill Home Page. "We are not going to put up with this political shell game. The government's first priority is to protect its citizens. These are our children and we want them protected."
A kerfuffle like the one in Spring Hill captures the national imagination a few times each academic year.
In October 2014, for example, a similar incident occurred in Maryland when a former Marine Corps corporal asked that his high school-aged daughter be excused from learning about Islam in her world history class. He then found himself under a no-trespass order that prevented him from setting foot on the girl's public school campus.
The order came after the mad dad had a conversation with a school official which did not end well because he reportedly told the staffer to "take that Muslim-loving piece of paper and shove it up your white ass."