Friday, October 16, 2015

Tennessee Bill Would Ban Teaching ‘Doctrine’ Of Islam To Seventh Graders

A Tennessee state legislator has proposed a state law that would prevent public schools from teaching anything about religious principles until students reach the 10th grade.

The bill from Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia (about 45 miles south of Nashville) comes in response to a grassroots campaign across Tennessee by parents — primarily evangelical parents — against what they perceive as an inappropriate focus on Islam in history and social studies courses in middle schools.

Last month, for example, parents in the Nashville suburb of in Spring Hill expressed alarm because their children in a taxpayer-funded middle school are learning about the Five Pillars of Islam in a world history class. (The first and most important pillar is roughly translated as: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.”) At the same time, the parents say, the course material pointedly ignores Christianity.

Parents in counties across the state have expressed similar complaints, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The parents have solid grounds for complaint, Rep. Butt, the Tennessee state House majority leader, believes.

“I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate,” the Republican said on Friday, according to the Times Free Press. “They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches.”

Butt’s bill, if it becomes law, would prevent the teaching of all “religious doctrine” until students reach the last three years of high school.

“Junior high is not the time that children are doing the most analysis,” Butt, an experienced Sunday school teacher said, according to the Chattanooga newspaper. “Insecurity is in junior high a lot of times, and students are not able to differentiate a lot of things they are taught.”

The phrase “religious doctrine” is currently undefined in the annals of Tennessee law. A statute about using the Bible in public schools does use the phrase, though. The existing law referencing “religious doctrine” states concerns Bibles in school. It says schools can use Bibles provided the coursework avoids “teaching of religious doctrine or sectarian interpretation of the Bible or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions.”

Encyclopedia Britannica defines doctrine (and dogma) as “the explication and officially acceptable version of a religious teaching.”

Butt has noted that her bill does not seek to prevent kids in junior high from hearing about religion in their curricula. The goal, she says, is to avoid any instruction about religious principles.

Since the fracas about Islam in middle school erupted across Tennessee last month, state education officials have insisted that the Islam curriculum is purely secular and designed to inform students about history.

“The reality is the Muslim world brought us algebra, ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ and some can argue it helped bring about the Renaissance,” Metro Nashville Public Schools social studies teacher Kyle Alexander instructed The Tennessean, Nashville’s main newspaper. “There is a lot of influence that that part of the world had on world history.”

Last month Maury County Public Schools middle school supervisor Jan Hanvey told The Daily Herald, a newspaper out of Columbia, Tenn., that students learn about the Five Pillars of Islam during a one-day segment of the seventh-grade curriculum.

“It’s part of history,” Hanvey proclaimed to the Herald. “Children need to know the ‘why,’ and they need to be able to learn and know where to find the facts, instead of going by what they hear or what they see on the Internet.”

Students also study Buddhism and Hinduism, the former social studies teacher noted.

However, at no point do Tennessee middle school students study Christianity per se. There is not, for example, one class day dedicated to the basic Jesus story.

Hanvey promised that Maury County students would eventually come across a reference to Christianity when history teachers reach the “Age of Exploration” in eighth grade. Then, students will hear about Christians persecuting other Christians in some countries in Western Europe.

Tennessee lawmakers recently decided to expedite a review of the way Islam and other religions are taught in the state’s public schools, The Tennessean notes. The review, which had been slated for 2018, will now occur in January.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Tennessee appears to be an epicenter for America’s encounter with Islam.

In July, lone Muslim gunman Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old naturalized citizen from Kuwait, brutally murdered four Marines at a military recruiting center and a Naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Back in February, leaders of ISIS took to the group’s propaganda magazine to urge followers to assassinate an American professor who teaches in Memphis. The professor, Houston, Texas-born Yasir Qadhi, teaches at Rhodes College, a private bastion of the liberal arts in Memphis. ISIS and its adherents don’t like Qadhi because he stands athwart the radical Muslim entity, yelling stop.

In 2013, officials at Sunset Elementary School in the affluent Nashville suburb of Brentwood rescinded a ban on delicious pork just one day after it went into effect because parents complained. The parents and other locals believed that the prohibition on pork had been an attempt to defer to the sensibilities of unidentified Muslim students. (RELATED: Tennessee Elementary School Lifts Fatwa Against Pork After Parents Complain)

Over percent of the residents of Tennessee identify as Christian, according to a 2014 Pew poll. About one percent of Volunteer State residents call themselves Muslim.


Behind the problem of grade inflation

Grade inflation. The subject is hardly new, and it is real: GPAs on college campuses sit on the border of A-/B+, and grades have ratcheted up a notch every decade or so. It’s hard to make much of academic administrators’ plea for rigor and critical thinking skills when either they’ve already been achieved or there’s no metric to capture progress. Yet the conversation about grade inflation focuses our attention on the wrong things.

Given the apparent wholesale precollege pedagogical shift of “teaching to the test,” is grade inflation merely a function of students becoming superb test-takers? College classroom experience and raw scores suggest not. Is it that faculty are uncaring? On the contrary, professors are deeply concerned about students’ lack of basic skills and study habits, and many faculty regularly employ elaborate assessment schemes and pour dozens of hours into reviewing student work.

Yet it’s hard to square the sense of distress about student ability, orientation, or performance with the high grades given out at the end of the term.

Maybe we should do away with grades altogether, given the time and attention they absorb and how little anyone has to show for it. Yet students of psychology remind us that grades are critical forms of positive or negative reinforcement. Political scientists opine that schools increasingly depend on adjunct faculty, who equate easy grades with happy students; contract renewals follow. Economists amplify these considerations, pointing out that incentive systems matter — if in sometimes surprising ways — and that schools dependent on tuition aren’t wrong to kowtow to their student-customers.

All these represent grains of truth, but none address the source of our expectations, which seem to be diminishing in inverse proportion to GPAs.

The issue is not that GPAs are high, it’s that the curve they sit atop no longer exists. Indeed, at A-/B+ for all, there may not be much runway ahead. But when 60 percent of all students are in the same place, we’ve effectively removed the markers that tell us where we stand, as well as places to go to move off the dime.

The root cause of the problem is the apparent difficulty, or unwillingness, of many teachers to own up to their judgments. Not about their subject matter, but about the performance of their students.

Undifferentiated grades suggest a failure to engage with students, to acknowledge differences. Very high, undifferentiated grades make it easy not to ask, why? If the fault lies with students’ attitudes or abilities, shame on teachers; in not demonstrating how discerning judgment is exercised, they fail to equip students to determine how seriously to take their schooling and themselves, to wonder what in the situation they are responsible for. They are deprived of the means and reasons to ask: Did I work hard enough? How much should I care? Does this subject matter to me?

If the fault lies with teachers, on the other hand, we should beware the unintended consequences of our actions. Failure to engage, to acknowledge differences, to own up to discerning judgments of others, permits students to do likewise, and it undermines the very idea of a community of learning.


Teacher Unions Fight to Keep Their Clout in Right-to-Work States

Proposals to stop state and local governments from deducting union dues from their employees’ paychecks are likely to gain traction in coming months, those on both sides of the issue say.

Such “payroll protection” measures arise as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide next year on a free speech challenge to rules compelling government workers to pay union dues in the first place.

Right now, elected officials allow governments to operate as bill collectors for their union benefactors—even in right-to-work states, where union membership isn’t a condition of employment and “agency shop” arrangements don’t apply.

In interviews with The Daily Signal, labor policy analysts, business representatives, and free market proponents said they see the unions operating at an unfair advantage over political opponents.

Even if the Supreme Court strikes down mandatory union dues on constitutional grounds, they predict, teacher unions will remain a potent political force.

That much is evident in Louisiana, where state Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Jefferson) and state Rep. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette) have submitted legislation (SB204 and HB418) to put an end to the practice of deducting government union dues from paychecks. Louisiana is one of 25 right-to-work states.

“Calling this legislation payroll protection is fraudulent,” Les Landon, spokesman for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees (LFT), insists. Landon adds:

    "Louisiana has been right-to-work since 1973, and all the dues collected are voluntary. There is nothing to protect. The phrase is used because it’s a hot button item, but it’s entirely misleading."

If the Martiny-Bishop version of “payroll protection” were to prevail in Louisiana, unions would become responsible for directly collecting membership dues. The measure passed out of the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations but did not come to floor votes in either the House or Senate before the legislative session ended.

In an interview, Martiny told The Daily Signal that he expects the bill to be reintroduced in some form next year. But, he said, unions have proven themselves adept and effective at blocking various versions of “payroll protection” proposed in Louisiana over the past few years. He anticipates another tough fight in 2016. “These unions are very political organizations,” Martiny said:

    "They take political stands and they lobby for policies and endorse candidates. So I don’t see why the government should pick up the cost of collecting the money for the union. It seems to me like the individual employee and the unions could make their own arrangements."

Anyone who doubts the power and influence of teacher unions in right-to-work states should take a hard look at tactics employed by union operatives in Louisiana, suggests Kevin Kane, president of Pelican Institute, a free-market think-tank based in New Orleans.

Kane’s organization published a report, “The Louisiana Teacher Union Paradox,” describing how two unions—the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees—worked to obstruct school choice initiatives and retaliate against “pro-reform legislators” through legal action and recall petitions.

The LAE is the state affiliate of the National Education Association; the LFT is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers as well as the AFL-CIO.

Although the Louisiana unions may not have as much muscle as the teacher unions in states with agency shop rules, the Pelican report finds they operate at a financial advantage over political opponents in the absence of payroll protection. It reads:

    "The unions remain viable in part because taxpayer-supported governmental bodies, i.e. school board offices, collect and remit union dues to them. With automatic payroll deduction, which is authorized in Louisiana statute, many teachers are unaware of the total amount they are paying in dues, and what portion of those dues go to support political candidates they may not even be personally supporting."

Payroll protection bills would go a long way toward “leveling the playing field” between union leaders and state residents, including rank-and-file teachers, who are opposed to the unions’ political agenda, Kane argues.

“You have to ask yourself why the unions pour so many resources into defeating payroll protection every time it comes up,” Kane told The Daily Signal, adding:

    "The bills would not prevent the unions from collecting dues or getting involved in politics. They [unions] can do everything they do now. They would just have the added responsibility of collecting their own dues. But every membership organization has to collect their own dues. The idea that government would step in and collect the dues for you is very unusual, and it speaks to the influence unions have with government."

If payroll protection hurts unions, it’s because more union members decide that their dues aren’t a “good investment,” Kane said.  “I think this prospect is what really concerns the unions,” he said.

Where Kane sees an effort to level the playing field, though, union officials see the hand of “big business” moving to silence average citizens.

“These bills were specifically aimed at unions, and they were introduced to disrupt union membership,” Landon, the LFT spokesman, told The Daily Signal. “This was just a political gambit that has nothing to do with protecting the public.”

Landon added:

    "All of the money that is collected is voluntarily contributed by the teachers and other school employees. This is not an issue of protecting anything. This is really about big business trying to get an unfair advantage over working people when it comes time for their voices to be heard in the [Louisiana] State Capitol."

Looking ahead to the just begun U.S. Supreme Court term, 10 California public school teachers who joined with the Christian Educators Association International continue to challenge that state’s mandatory union dues.

Under California’s agency shop rule, teachers don’t have to join the union but must pay what amounts to union dues.

The teachers who took legal action argue that they’re forced to pay for political activism at odds with their policy preferences. If they prevail at the Supreme Court with the high-profile suit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, it essentially would mean every state would become a right-to-work state.

“We could begin to see legislative jockeying of all kinds that accounts for the fact that the Supreme Court appears to be moving rapidly away from compulsory union dues,” Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, told The Daily Signal. “What’s happening in Louisiana could raise some interesting questions about what happens in other states after Friedrichs is decided.”

The Center for Individual Rights, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, represents the California teachers who brought the suit.

Although those teachers technically are permitted to opt out of the political portion of their dues, they contend that the process is cumbersome and burdensome.

The teachers also argue that the collective bargaining has become laced with political overtones to the point where it is more difficult to distinguish between “chargeable” union expenses and those members may opt out of, the so-called  “nonchargeable” ones.

Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think-tank in Michigan, is sympathetic toward the idea of payroll protection since it  can “warm the waters for labor reform.”

Vernuccio said he also would like to see state lawmakers consider  “worker’s choice” initiatives designed to free government workers from forced union representation but also free unions from providing services to employees who prefer not to be part of the union.


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