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.