Ethics Quiz: The Indecipherable Indoctrination


In the Augusta County School District in Virginia, Riverheads High School teacher Cheryl LaPorte assigned students the task of coping the shahada, the  Muslim statement of faith, “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” The purpose, LaPorte explained, was to give the students a sense of the calligraphy and art required in Arabic writing as part of the curriculum in the school’s world geography course.

Not surprisingly given the timing of the exercise, chaos soon reigned. One parent expressed alarm at the assignment, called two friends, and they called two friends, and then before you could sing “allahu akbar” ( the lyrics in a proposed audience sing-along that another high school teacher placed in a “holiday program” to the shock of many students and parents), there was a parents’ meeting, in which Augusta County parent Kimberly Herndon protested, “if my truth can not be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools; ” anonymous threats; and this statement of support from the school district for LaPorte, denying  that the teacher was attempting to indoctrinate students into the Muslim faith:

“Neither these lessons, nor any other lesson in the world geography course, are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion, or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief.”

Then the district decided to close all of its schools…just to be on the safe side. Great assignment, Cheryl!

Your Week Before Christmas Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today is...

Was the assignment unethical, naive, or legitimate?

My conclusion: It would have been legitimate if a nationwide debate over Islam wasn’t blazing; it was naive beyond belief, and though an example of the Ick Factor, where reflex distaste for conduct creates a false sense that it is unethical.

In a world geography class teaching about Islamic culture, calligraphy that translates into “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” could be seen as educational, or regarded as indoctrination, though the latter is a stretch. Not so much of a stretch, however, that a responsible, competent teacher who knows (or should know) that Islamic extremists using social media are trying to pull impressionable US teens over to the Dark Side should not be expected to have been aware of the sensitivity and thus have the students copy Arabic calligraphy that read “My hovercraft is full of eels.”

The teacher was foolish, negligent, naive and irresponsible, and that’ s unethical enough for me.


49 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Indecipherable Indoctrination

  1. I may be crossing over into conspiracy theory here, but every time something like this happens I get the feeling it’s an attempt to fly a trial balloon to see just how far things can be pushed. Each incident makes the next one a little easier to slip past our notice. Like the burglar who spends time setting off false alarms on the security system until everyone gives up on responding then springs the real thing. Sometimes paranoia is just good sense when people really ARE out to get you.

        • “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”
          “Any sufficiently advanced cultural bandwagon is indistinguishable from conspiracy.”
          As cultural decay goes it doesn’t matter if each instance is attributable to stupidity or incompetence the effect is the same.

          Maybe I wrote my comment too hastily. I don’t mean to suggest there is a single controlling entity planning these things, just that these things are happening in a predictable way. We have seen a lot of cultural 180 degree turns do the same thing both for good and ill. Small steps.

    • I smell it too. All references to the God of Abraham have been pretty much flushed out of all but parochial schools, CAIR and other Muslim groups spreading their tentacles far and wide, and plenty of evidence that Islam has increased its presence exponentially in many parts of Europe, and has no intention of stopping there. Pay attention to everything that’s going on in the UK. It’s a pretty good model of what will eventually happen here.

      • I wonder how much of it is that Europe has lost strong allegiance to any faith, so Islam is attracting people looking for meaning. At times they mock our continuing religious head-butting. (had a friend live as ex-pat during her marriage in Spain) I think they got bored or afraid of the abuses from the reformation to the holocaust and tried to cut it out, but that lack of strong belief is now an Achilles heel.

        • 1) if one is an atheist, they’ve got no business deciding what ‘gods’ are the same. To an atheist, it doesn’t matter how many ‘made up gods’ there are since God ‘doesn’t exist’. Such an assertion about Allah is silliness from an atheist.

          2) if one isn’t an atheist and does subscribe to one of the big three monotheistic religions, it should go with the territory. Muslims claim to worship the same God as Christians and Jews, but the latter two groups will readily denounce that with ample theology to back it up.

          Christians will claim to worship the same God as Jews and Jews will generally agree with such an assessment but not agree on the Divinity or messiahship of Jesus.

          • No, tex, my religious beliefs or lack thereof have no bearing on what I said. Abraham is a prophet recognized and revered in Islam. Whether or not one believes in Allah, or whether it’s the same God as in Christianity, is irrelevant; stating that “Allah is the God of Abraham” is as factual a statement as saying “Athena is the goddess of war.”

    • Everything I’ve been seeing and hearing out of the schools, colleges and other “educational” outlets leads me to the same conclusion, Granny. I keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind, but when you see Mohammedism being forwarded to young people again and again, a pattern emerges that defies random stupidity as the cause. If American schools were pushing Shintoism and Aryan theory at schoolchildren in 1942, some educators would either be in jail or dancing from a tree limb.

  2. And in a Facebook post from Tuesday, Herndon labels Islam “a religion of hate” and called for the teacher to “be fired because she had them write an abomination to their faith and causes a little girl to cry herself to sleep because she was worried she had denounced her God.” In that post she also calls herself “a woman of sound Christian background who has given up sleep, and comfort for days for fear of this woman [the teacher] planting the seed of satan into the precious minds of those innocent children.”

    She also tells those who oppose her they can send their “children back into the hands of the devil.”

    I should add that the curriculum being objected to was “insensitive” to say the least, and should have been modified. But to react to it this way is insane, though there is one good thing. It’s flushed out the violent psychos.

    I’d have equal objections to the insensitivity of learning Latin by writing out

    The teacher was foolish, negligent, naive and irresponsible, and that’ s unethical enough for me.

    I’d add Insensitive to Christians too, as well as many other religions. You don’t do this …used food.

    I agree that the teacher is naive not to realise that in today’s climate, arson, shootings and bombings are possible (however unlikely) by hysterical Christian zealots, and threats of the same, inevitable.

    • Of course you could argue that reacting to things that rub up against your personal hot buttons by calling the perp an abomination and an evil hater is simply the way things are done now. I have often seen this reaction since I routinely speak up about my objections to abortion and gay marriage.
      I’m not defending that rationalization. It’s incredibly stupid, but it is used routinely by both Christian zealots and other social religious zealots. You may have slipped a little close to it yourself.


      (b) The teacher was foolish, negligent, naive and irresponsible, and . . . .

      [for a moment there, I thought (b) was your translation of (a); and I was about to congratulate you on your childhood chutzpah.]

  3. Was the assignment unethical, naive, or legitimate?

    D: Subversive.

    I wonder if the school has a bible as literature class.

    Just reading it for the literary value. Just writing it for the calligraphy and art.

  4. There are so many other possibilities of phrases that the teacher could have chosen, how about using Google Translate and come up with your own phrase, for example, “My world geography course is really interesting!” (بلدي العالم هو الجغرافيا بالطبع مثيرة للاهتمام حقا). Google Translate

    This teacher made a choice to use this particular phrase and her choice has consequences. I believe that the teacher made that particular choice for reasons other than an academic choice to “give the students a sense of the calligraphy and art”. In my opinion, the teacher is not telling the whole truth, she is using “sense of the calligraphy and art” as an excuse to hide her true motivation. The teacher is intentionally lying by omitting her true reasons for choosing that particular phrase.

    Just because we the people have the right to do and say whatever we want, does not make what we do and say right. (فقط لأننا شعب الحق في القيام به، و يقول كل ما نريد ، لا يجعل ما نقوم به و أقول الحق)

    Jack said, “The teacher was foolish, negligent, naive and irresponsible, and that’s unethical enough for me.”

    The public has every right to be outraged with her extremely poor judgement and voice concern about her ability to continue in her position based on her poor judgement.

    I want to know where the hell are the student protesters marching on every college campus across the USA demanding the immediate resignation of the school principle and the school board president?

    • If the purpose was the artful calligraphy and not just writing sentences in Arabic, the bulk of the artful calligraphy is found in religious settings. It would be hard to avoid some distinctly religious statement.

        • My first take on this post — having read the pedantically old-fashioned (and inaccurate) textbook sample at the top — was that this was a drastic example of a lazy teacher on autopilot.

          If she’d had even a fraction more creative energy, she could have chosen the Christmas-tree example of “Allah” instead: which would have been much more appropriate to the season and thus unexceptionable to the hysteria-prone parent.

          Thought I’d add “lazy” (كسول) to the Arabic translation of foolish, negligent, naive and irresponsible but it didn’t come out quite as I expected. Appears to say “Jews,” at least in American-style calligraphy.

  5. When I was in middle school, I had a dream that I recited the Shahada, and woke up in a cold sweat, thinking I had accidentally converted to Islam…

    While learning Islamic calligraphy is rather neutral, bordering on benign and helpful, perhaps choosing the most sacred phrase in Islam was the biggest mistake. On the other hand, no other phrase would be so carefully illustrated, and would perhaps be the best possible example of calligraphy.

    My stupid dream was just that. I remember during my social studies course that I was utterly amazed that Muslims worshiped the God of Abraham. Previously, I knew nothing at all about the religion. Eighth grade me perhaps knew it was monotheistic, and vaguely Middle Eastern. This course was critical, as the Twin Towers fell earlier that very year.

    What was perhaps most impressive, was that the course was taught in a perfectly neutral manner. We simply followed the curriculum, and terrorism hysteria played no role in it. We learned what the mainstream religion taught; while we did not cover extremism, having some context of the middle helps me immensely today study where the heck extremists go wrong.

    Further, from a ‘diversity’ standpoint, this leason was invaluable. Later in high school, I noticed that Muslims actually lived in Connecticut. I had some understanding then why women were wearing headscarves to Walmart. In college, I became friends with two sisters who were Muslim, although at the very liberal end. Finally, in grad school, about 80% of the full-time students in my class were Muslim. They were also perfectly normal people, if slightly religious, like myself. This was in Northeastern Connecticut.

    This was no ‘sensitivity’ or ‘cultural awareness’ training, just a factual introduction to a religion and culture that affects 1/7th the worlds population. I would have probably thought they were normal anyways. Still, having learned just a tiny bit in a neutral manner when I was younger and utterly ignorant of Islam was helpful. It removed one tiny barrier, and seeing parallels between their perspective and my own early on helped me understand people who were all around, but invisible to me. It is rather distressing that inconsequential details of a lesson plan are turning into the controversy de jure.

    • “. . .having learned just a tiny bit in a neutral manner when I was younger and utterly ignorant of [how The Other thought like me] was helpful. It removed one tiny barrier, and seeing parallels between their perspective and my own early on helped me understand people . . .”

      oh YES

      Side-thought: This promotes a familiarity with other ways of looking, dressing, behaving and thinking that leads to positive bias, at least to being open to others’ ways. I am considering that, as a concommitant to accidental meetings, this might encourage ethical behavior (the do-unto-others basics) from parents who actively seek different experiences for their children and themselves welcome the unknown more than just objectively.

      … Media, teachers, peers and, yes, bad experiences, will try stretching and twisting these into prejudices later on, but the open-mindedness will usually prevail.

      Further side-thought: If carried too far, or taught with rote teaching rather than open-mindedness in mind, this could lead to a person growing up feeling guilty about not accepting everybody or liking every type of person, or giving the disadvantaged Other special benefits, or even not recognizing when certain kinds of people might be dangerous to them.

      So now what?

      • Yeah, even then. It’s like parents who parade their children around with signs or shirts saying things that no child understands. The child is being cynically used to advance the parent’s agenda.
        Children shouldn’t be pawns in adult games.

      • Who claimed the sweet little children ‘just didnt know” what they were writing and were just following teacher’s orders, instructions, teachings ? Would not someone be bright enough to ask the question : “What is that ?”

        Or if not, they are already “indoctrinated”. enough. to obey, follow, never questions, agree, obey, ‘just do it’ anyhow.

  6. Though it has no bearing on the outcome of this quiz OR the ethical evaluation of the conduct in question, an interesting thought experiment on the side would be to guess how various people are reacting to this or are keeping out of this altogether compared to how various groups and individuals would react or not had the assignment been to study Roman uncial type (another attractive calligraphic script) to write out the oldest Christian profession of faith: “Jesus is Lord”.

    Something tells me everyone involved and some currently not involved would have entirely different gripes or narratives.

      • I expect they’re laughing that the people who most often try to push religion into schools are now throwing a temper tantrum about something related to a religion in a school.

        If you mean why aren’t they protesting and bringing lawsuits, that’s easy. The militant Christians are already doing all the work for them, why waste time and resources?

  7. I’ll go with naive. It’s the Muslim profession of faith, so they really should have expected that non-Muslims would be wary of being forced to write it. For devout or evangelical Christians, it might even be against their religion to say it, since they have a duty to stand up for their Christian beliefs and not swear to (in their minds) false creeds. Of course, it’s centrality to Islam is probably also why there are so many beautiful renderings of it.

  8. I just got home from my kiddos’ holiday festival at school — each class did songs/prayers/skits. My youngest daughters’ class did a Swedish processional, my other daughter’s class sang Mr. Grinch. There was a Kwanza song, a Hannukah song, Silent Night, and a few others. In addition to Sweden, there was a Korean song and a Native American short play. There also was a short prayer read from the Quran and then translated into English. It was a beautiful day and the children loved it.

  9. It ” could be seen as educational, or regarded as indoctrination, though the latter is a stretch…”

    This set of words has been well heard by most adults, and younger ones too by now…and is a well-known phrase does not sound very educational. Since these repeated words have become significant mostly through news media, ‘terrorist’ attacks, extreme religious zealots, et al. That those phrases are stated as if: a fact, an oath, a prayer, or maybe even a show-of-following a belief – which makes the Allah messenger claim a statement to be agreed and believed and often without any questions or explanations or divergences.
    Or so it has been presented to “the West”.

    ….And so “indoctrination” may be an exaggeration but toned-down-a-bit, the phrases have been in context of an “introduction to believing” the statement, or repeating a “motto, mantra, holy words” or even “ a trance inducing method” is more accurate, to some of us.

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