Study about Islam Enters Curriculums

Article excerpt

In the 10 years since 9/11, teachers have taken instruction on Islam's history and impact from brief references in some Western Pennsylvania classrooms to extensive overviews.

"If we want our students to solve future problems, they must have a strong understanding of world religions," said Doug Kirchner, social studies curriculum leader at Upper St. Clair High School.

With the school year set to start in a few weeks, several schools are adding classes or revamping curriculum to give students a more in-depth look at world religions, including Islam.

For the first time next spring, Upper St. Clair will offer a class called Asian and Middle Eastern studies that will provide a detailed analysis of Islam. Students at the high school first study Islam as freshmen in world geography.

"The course is run almost like a current events class," Kirchner said. "Students begin to see how politics, economics and culture can be intertwined."

The 9/11 hijackers were Islamic terrorists, but educators said they are taking care not to stereotype the faith.

Teachers at Sewickley Academy attempt to "depoliticize" the subject of Islam by focusing on its history in classes like world religion at the senior school and East Asian Studies at the middle school, said Claudia Gallant, assistant head of school for academic affairs.

"We give kids an accurate portrayal of the many different belief systems around the world," Gallant said.

The school conducts assemblies acknowledging certain holidays including Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting when Muslims avoid eating and drinking during daylight hours. This year, Ramadan began Aug. 1 and will run through Aug. 29.

Students at Greensburg Salem High School first learn about Islam in grade six when they start to study the Crusades as part of an international studies unit.

"It's brand new to them," said Bob Lehman, social studies teacher at Greensburg Salem. "They have a foundation with Christianity and Judaism, but we don't really have a Muslim population here to the extent that they would know."

They revisit the topic in 11th grade world history in a unit focusing on the world's five largest religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. …