Tuesday, October 09, 2007

You MUST be Muslim with hair like that!

When the teachers are more stupid than the kids you really have to wonder about the educational system.

My last name is my husband's, and although it's Lithuanian, it sounds vaguely Turkish. (Ends with a J-A-N, which is often a Turkish form of the Armenian ending of I-A-N.) Total coincidence that this name sounds so Middle Eastern -- he could have just as easily been named something that sounds Polish. Most Americans recognize Polish names as belonging to either Catholic or Jewish families. But this name's just odd.

My first name is Persian. I was named for a Persian fairy-tale character.

Neo's first name is Armenian. She was named to honor my grandfather's relatives and my aunt.

When you see Neo's name on paper, and you see her dark eyes, thick eyebrows, and dark wavy hair, it is easy to see that she has some Middle Eastern heritage in her somewhere. But here's the thing. My father's family has a lot of Italian blood, and her last name is from a family of Lithuanian Jews, and her father has thick, dark wavy hair. So really, in the American melting pot, she could be anything.

The seventh grade History class is studying the Five Pillars of Islam. At the very beginning of the unit, before the class has started reading the textbook, the teacher calls Neo and one other girl (whose father is Saudi) up to the front of the class. "Now then. Tell us something about Islam."

Poor Neo.

This is a kid that HATES being made the center of attention in a classroom, and now she's being asked about ISLAM? WTF?

She told me in the car later, yelling in frustration, "I didn't know what to say! I couldn't embarrass the teacher, but I mean really! Papa Arthur left the Middle East because he was CHRISTIAN! Armenians aren't MUSLIM! Your whole family is Christian. I don't even know much about Christianity. Forget Islam, I hardly know anything about religion as it is! What the hell was I supposed to do?"

Actually, that was all really well said. There's a part of me that wishes she had said such a thing to the teacher, but I think you have to have left Middle School before you can successfully turn into a brat.

Then there's the awful racist part of it all. Do we ask black kids to come to the front of the class, unprepared, and ask them about slavery? Or about Voodoo? Or Santeria? Good God, that would be decried on the national media. This smacks of: "Look class. We have a strange being in our midst. It may very well be a turban head. Let's ask them about the Muslim religion. Because it's all so Different and Odd and Weird."

The POINT of having a unit on Islam is so that children will come to recognize that there ARE other religions and cultures in WORLD HISTORY. Is this not obvious? Even I can see this. Are the Chinese kids going to be called to the front of the class and be asked to explain Taoism? Wouldn't you be assuming an awful lot to think that all American children with "Far Eastern" heritages all practice one religion?

So now I have to call the teacher, and this one's a sub, so she's going to be hard to track down, and call the VP, etc., etc., etc.

I'm thinking that the teachers responsible for the World History curriculum need a little more training.


Zeek said...

Oh that's awful. Why are they studying Five Pillars of Islam in a history class in the first place? Do they study books on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism as well? Just seems better fitted for a religion, world cultures or even literature class, to me ... perhaps it is a world cultures class?

Suisan said...

It's actually good course, a study of the Medieval period world wide, including Japan, China, Europe, Africa, and Asia. In those studies they study both the cultures and religions of various regions.

It woudl be hard to study the Medieval period without talking about the growth of religions. (Last year they studied the Ancient world, including Egypt, Greece, Sumer, and Ancient Hebrew/Israelite cultures, and touched on China and India too. Again, a good course, and I appreciate that the school is trying to get outside the box of Europe and America.)

Unfortunately, this teacher is an idiot.

Chris said...

Have you read Doug's post about the Hannukah lobster? You should show it to Neo - I'm sure Doug would be happy to let her borrow it next time she's put on the spot like that.

And a teacher should know better to put ANY kid on the spot like that, especially over something as personal as religion.

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher who found your site through educational blog rings about a year ago. I read because I appreciate hearing the perspectives of a Board member, and, more importantly, those of a parent with a special needs child. At times, however, it also demonstrates a pattern of dealing with educational conflict that I find can often cause more harm than good.

This post certainly describes a teacher who made a bone-headed decision that put Neo in an uncomfortable and unfair position. I don't defend the teacher's actions one bit.

But I do wish you would reconsider your approach to situations such as this one. Certainly call the teacher. Certainly express your disapproval and concern. But please also ask her for any further information that you may not have (I'm not sure what it might be in this case, honestly, but should always be asked as a sign of good faith), and give her a chance to work through the matter with you personally before you call a VP. Not because I don't want her to "get in trouble," but because she is an adult, and she deserves for you to express your displeasure to her personally. It's a far more effective and professional first step to take. If it's not solved at that level, then I'd be the first one to call a VP at that point. But everyone makes a bone-headed mistake. Give this person time to make it right with you and Neo herself. That's what I would want for my own friends and family when they make mistakes, and I have no doubt you would want the same for yours.

Best of luck resolving this situation. I hope it is addressed successfully for all parties involved.

Suisan said...

Thanks, but I have to call the VP to find out who the sub WAS on that day.

And the VP is the only person at that school who is actively looking out for my kid, Board member status be damned. He was the one who set up the SST meeting for her at the start of the year, he's the one who checks up on her at lunch to make sure she's OK. I'm calling the VP.

In most situations, I'd email the teacher first, ask for her phone number, and talk to her. But, I'm sorry if you don't want to hear this, this situation pissed me off, and I am going straight to the VP with it. The teacher will simply have to deal with hurt feelings and be a professional in his/her job.

I'm pretty much done with teachers and staff refusing to accept criticism by saying, "But I have feelings too and you should have helped me lick my wounds." The VP is her supervisor, and that's who I would report a rude store clerk to, the manager. I wouldn't try to chase the clerk down and get her to express her side of the story.

Man. I wish teaching wasn't all about the emotions of the adults. Because the kids have emotions too, and the adults who complain about hurt feelings are at the very bottom of my list of worries.


And if you really think that EVERY conversation I have with EVERY teacher on EVERY topic is spelled out here, you are very mistaken. I send flowers to teachers, I give them hugs, and say great things about them in front of other parents. I nudge them towards getting better training, and I let them know what the larger public thinks of their efforts, good and bad. But I don't chronicle that here. Sorry if you thought I did.

Sometimes someone does something so boneheaded that they truly deserve to get their feelings hurt.

Signed, an angry parent and a frustrated to hell and back Board Member.

Zeek said...

"In those studies they study both the cultures and religions of various regions.'

hmmm that makes more sense...

ps I'd be pissed too. ;)