A flap over the history curriculum regarding world religions – specifically teachings about Islam – in the Revere middle schools has gone to the Boston media and caused a number of parents to ask questions and inquire about what is, indeed, being taught to children.
Superintendent Paul Dakin said the genesis of the complaint came from a parent at the Susan B. Anthony Middle School who objected to history classes taught to 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Dakin said the curriculum is a general overview of all world religions in the context of the study of history and has been taught in Revere since 2003.
“This is nothing new in the schools,” he said. “We’re not teaching religion and we’re not trying to convert any student. For people to think we’re out there selling religion is completely false. We’re discussing these things intelligently and academically. This is learning and this is information.”
The classes that tackle the topics include World Geography in grade 6, Ancient Civilization in grade 7 and World History I in grade 8. The teachings, also, are part of the state’s curriculum, he said.
The original complaint came from parent Anthony Giannino – a former Revere DPW worker – who objected to a general information piece about Islam. In particular, Giannino – who was interviewed by Channel 7 News in Boston – said there were things in the text that referred to Allah being the only God and Muhammad being his prophet.
“That’s insulting to me as a Christian who believes in Jesus only,” Giannino told Channel 7 in a segment on Monday night. “We don’t believe in Allah.”
The particular reference, in context, is buried within facts about there being 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and that the name Muhammad means “highly praised.”
Following those facts is the ‘Call to Prayer,’ which reads in the text as: “Allah is the greatest; I bear witness that there is no God but Allah; I bear witness that Muhammad is his Prophet; Hasten to prayer, hasten to success; Allah is the greatest. There is no God but Allah.”
Giannino told Channel 7 that he pulled his son from the classes because he didn’t want him exposed to teachings about Islam, and he said that resulted in his son failing the class.
“If my son was from another country and came here, he would have been catered to, but we’re no being catered to and they gave him an ‘F,’” he told Channel 7. “They should say to you ahead of time that in history your son is going to learn about Islam. They should send a letter home.”
Dakin said that Giannino is the first person to ever complaint about the 11-year-old curriculum. He said three parents have voiced concerns to his office after seeing the report on Channel 7, and all have been satisfied with the district’s explanation of the history curriculum.
He added that the Mayor’s Office and the School Department have been inundated with calls.
“Religions of all types are part of the discussion in history,” said Dakin. “You can’t discuss the move from B.C. to A.D. without talking about religion and Jesus. You can’t talk about the time before Christ without talking about Judaism. You have to talk about Buddhism and Hinduism and the religions of Native Americans to understand history in that part of the world and to understand the culture. We study it from that point of view and not to convert anyone. It’s information that’s put in context and academic. I don’t think history can be taught without discussing religions.”
Dakin said the classes also discuss Christianity, Jesus Christ, Judaism, Buddhism, the Puritan Movement and other religions in the same context as the Islamic faith.
He said he doesn’t believe one can remove religion from the academic study of history.
“Are we going to allow people to say they don’t like the Civil War and the South and the Confederates and won’t let their kids be in class every time we talk about the Confederates?” he asked. “We could never do that. They could never understand the history of the Civil War without talking about the South.”
That said, Dakin affirmed that any parent not wishing to have their children exposed to any teachings in the schools – including world religions within history classes – can have their children excluded from the discussion.
“Any parent can have their child held out of anything they don’t want them to be exposed to, but in this case, these are state standards and they will likely be tested on it,” he said. “If they’re asked about it on a standardized test, they won’t know it. Also, if they miss more than six classes, they will have a problem with attendance.”
Dakin and Christina Porter – Director of Humanities – sent out a letter to the specific concerned parents on Oct. 16 to address the objections and provide more information about the curriculum and the state standards.
On Tuesday, Dakin issued a memo to the entire district discussing the issue once again.
“More than the fact that we are following State Curriculum Standards is the fact that we live in a multicultural world and city, and each classroom in every school has children of multiple religions,” he wrote. “As part of our appreciation of our diversity, there are discussions about places where our children come from and the traditions they practice. We celebrate the differences we have.”