It has come to our attention that there is some misinformation circulating about the teaching of religion in our middle school social studies classrooms. We would like to clarify what exactly is being taught and why it is being taught.
In our middle school classrooms, we teach World Geography in grade 6, Ancient Civilizations in grade 7 and World History 1 in grade 8. As with all of our courses, what we teach students in these classes is based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. These documents identify the specific learning standards and concepts and skills for each grade level and each content area. In order to give students an extensive understanding of human history, these standards focus on several themes including: the evolution of freedom, the growth of centralized state power, the influence of economic, political, religious and cultural ideas, and the birth, growth and decline of civilizations (among others). A link to the entire document can be found at http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/hss/final.pdf .
The current confusion stems from some members of the community thinking that we were teaching religion in relation to what students should believe. This is not the case at all. Islam, like all of the other major world religions, is studied in relation to the specific culture, time period, or historical events that students are focusing on in a social studies or history class. I want to be very clear that no religion is taught with the purpose of converting students to that religion, insulting their own religious beliefs, or promoting the beliefs of one religion as superior to the beliefs of another.
In the Massachusetts History and Social Studies Curriculum Framework, standards connected to religion run throughout every course simply because it is impossible to study history without studying religion. For example, it would be impossible to study the Puritans without understanding the religious freedoms they were seeking in the new world. It would be impossible to study ancient civilizations without looking at the rise of religions that believe in one god (monotheistic religions). It would be impossible to study the Crusades without having an understanding of the religious and political conflicts between Islam and Christianity. It would be impossible to study ancient Egypt without understanding how their beliefs in many gods (polytheistic religious beliefs) influenced every aspect of their lives.
Dr. Paul Dakin – Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Christina Porter – Director of Humanities.