Security concerns over white Christians cause Virginia school district to shut down following Arabic lesson

The entire Augusta County, Virginia school district shut down today over safety concerns following outrage over a lesson involving Arabic words. Athletic events, along with a weekend holiday concert, are also canceled.

At issue is a high school World Geography lesson on the Middle East, in which students were asked to transcribe an Islamic statement of faith written in Arabic calligraphy. The goal of the lesson was, according to superintendent Eric Bond, “to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy.”

You say artistic complexity, parents say indoctrination.

Despite the fact that students were only asked to copy the letters, and were not asked to translate, recite or otherwise accept the statement as a matter of personal faith, a flurry of parental outrage over the lesson led the district to hold a forum on Tuesday — at a church, with no guns allowed — that saw over 100 attendees. However, the forum didn’t put concerns over the lesson to bed. As one parent said, she didn’t care if students weren’t translating the specific words; the real issue was that Islamic doctrine was being presented in class while Christian doctrine wasn’t. As she said, quoted by the Staunton News-Leader:

If my truth can not be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools. That’s what keeps it even across the board…She (the teacher who assigned the lesson) gave up the Lord’s time. She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed.

Muslim man via Shutterstock

Muslim man via Shutterstock

Another parent noted that while this episode was not a good reason to be afraid, “This is the perfect opportunity to pray for [the teacher]. This is an opportunity to pray for all Muslims.”

As the News-Leader noted, the lesson was “found to be in line with Virginia Standards of Learning for the study of monotheistic religions.” In other words, there was nothing odd or controversial about this lesson, save for the fact that it happened to coincide with a bout of anti-Islamic paranoia.

Since the forum, Augusta County has received so many calls and emails that the county sheriff advised them to close down, citing security concerns. Apparently, the school district had reason to believe that anti-Islamic radicals could have been inspired to take violent action against the school district over their state-approved curriculum.

That’s right: A lesson involving an Islamic statement of faith led to reasonable concerns over terror attacks…from white Christian men.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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36 Responses to “Security concerns over white Christians cause Virginia school district to shut down following Arabic lesson”

  1. disqus_j90iRcr5dx says:

    This story reported by a true libertard. “Arabic Words” was not the problem
    …it was Islamic Indoctrination…morons

  2. Alek Kolchak says:

    Green’s put so many lies in this article that I don’t know where to start. I’ll say this: go to Breitbart, which has written two extensive articles about this incident.

    In short, the lesson was NOT a part of the school’s approved curriculum, but rather the teacher, LaPorte, took it from a workbook, not used by Augusta schools, which was published 20 years ago.

    LaPorte xeroxed a page of this unauthorized workbook and handed it out to her students. The xeroxed copy clearly stated that the Arabic sentence was the shahada, the Islam statement of faith: “There is no god but Allah; and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.”

    In addition to having the students “try their hand” at writing the shahada by copying the Arabic script into the block provided on the worksheet handout, LaPorte had previously passed around the Koran in her classroom. She had not passed around a copy of the Bible because, she said, the students were already familiar with the Bible. Really?

    In addition to passing around the Koran, LaPorte pressured the girls in her class to don the hijab, and then LaPorte took pictures of the girls in the hijab.

    So, there’s something very suspicious about LaPorte. Dr. Bonds, the superintendent wants to keep this under wraps, of course, because it reflects poorly on his leadership. And, finally, there were NO threats made against the school or staff. Dr. Bonds indicated that he feared some parents might show up OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL GROUNDS to protest. And if they had, of course, the local and national news media would have shown up with cameras and mics,which, again, would have reflected poorly on Dr. Bond’s leadership. So Bonds closed the schools–all of them–although this incident was confined to one school, Riverheads High, in order to spare himself embarrassment.

  3. Olterigo says:

    I didn’t mean to create an impression that these attacks are not important to be concerned about. But the reality, as I see it, is not that it’s 1930’s outside. Just like the fact that it isn’t 1930’s does not mean these attacks shouldn’t concern us. At the same time, according to the FBI figures, Muslims are not the most targeted group in the US for xenophobic attacks. blacks, Jews, and LGBTs are still the most targeted groups (in the respective categories of race-, religion- and sexual orientation-based crimes).

  4. FLL says:

    Olterigo doesn’t just have a good point. He is dead on target. I live in South Florida and see Muslim college students wearing the hajib all the time. Look at the relations between Muslims and the larger community in France. Now compare that with the United States. I think that the world of comedy has got it nailed when it comes to your worries about Trump or Cruz or Rubio as president:

    Jeb Bush impersonator: “You’re a jerk. You’re never gonna be president, Donald.”

    Donald Trump impersonator: “Yeah, no kidding. None of us are, genius. And I’ll tell you something else… live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.”

  5. Olterigo says:

    I don’t listen to the AM radio, so I can’t speak on that, but even on Fox many people disagree that “all Muslims are terrorists.” You are mirroring the reductio ad absurdum view of the opposite side that is found on the other side. Many people say many things on various fora. That doesn’t mean it will be realized tomorrow. Whatever Chris Christie says, there are already Syrians in NJ. There was recently a piece on one such family of recent refugees. The states are powerless to stop people. They can try and push the state agencies to stop cooperating with the feds, but that’s the extent of it; they can’t send some state troopers to prevent a family from moving in.

    But even if it will, in the worst case, there are many Muslim and non-Muslim countries that would gladly accept Muslim refugees, including Canada. Especially, since many of them have Western credentials in education and professional accreditation. In the run-up to WW2, there were simply no countries whatsoever willing to accept Jews.

  6. PattyJM says:

    You have a good point, one I take seriously. I honestly do hope that I am wrong in this assessment.

    As to things such as the Nuremberg laws, lets see what happens if Trump gets elected. Or any of the other Republican candidates, for that matter.

    The conservative media have been saying things like Muslim = terrorist over and over. Islam has one and a half billion adherents. Over and over for years. Advertising works. I it didn’t there would be many fewer commercials on TV. Political propaganda works the same way, selling hate rather than canned beans. If are ALL Muslims are terrorists the western world is in very serious trouble. Yet that absurd view has been expressed many times by ‘conservative’ people on discussion sites. That this claim is ridiculous on the face of it but it is believed by more than a few Americans. The result has been violent attacks and blatant discrimination.

    The kid in Texas who modified a clock, and was treated as a bomber is one example. No details yet but there has been a similar episode, this time over solar panels. A 6th grade Muslim girl was attacked by classmates for wearing a hajib. Meanwhile Chris Christie said that he didn’t want five year old Syrian refugees into his state. Several other states want to deny entrance to other refugees.

    Again, my hope is that you are right and that I am wrong. That this whole concern is just me being paranoid. Since neither of us has a working crystal ball, only time will show how this all works out in the end.

  7. SkippyFlipjack says:

    When something is controversial because of ignorant dopes, why cater to them? The kids weren’t reciting “Allah is my God” repeatedly, they were duplicating some characters to see how complicated they were. Again, if the kids were copying a similar sentence from the Bible — even if it were in English and they could understand the words — no one would have thought twice about it.

    FWIW, initially I agreed with you and thought that the teacher could have just used a different passage for teaching the same lesson. But the more I hear about these idiots, the more angry I get that we’re kowtowing to the most ignorant common denominator. Screw them. These kids weren’t being indoctrinated, and we shouldn’t behave like that was anyone’s intention, or that it was possible just by writing one line from the Koran, in any language.

  8. Buford says:

    The point is that anyone who decides to do something controversial… even if it’s the right thing done for the right reason… should not be surprised when they receive backlash from the close-minded masses.

    Conversely, if this teacher was not seeking controversy and was not deliberately using this lesson to take a principled stand against xenophobia, selecting a less-controversial phrase to copy would have been the wise decision.

  9. SkippyFlipjack says:

    If you were demonstrating ancient Hebrew to kids you might have them trace over the characters from the first line of the Bible about God creating the heavens and the earth, which would be considered controversial to some. (Sadly, it would only be controversial to a couple people.) I sort of agree that it may have avoided controversy if the passage had been something mundane, but on the other hand, it’s important to push back against the xenophobic, Islamophobic know-nothings. It’s not indoctrination if the kids don’t know what the characters mean, and even if they did, it’s still not indoctrination. These people would absolutely, positively have had no problem with a group of public school kids having to recite biblical sayings like “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The actions of these parents was pathetic, and I don’t think catering to them does anything but hurt our kids’ educations.

  10. SkippyFlipjack says:

    My vote is for allowing photos. I don’t find memes that interesting or relevant but blocking photos blocks some good content. Unless the memes get out of control I think it’s fine.

  11. Olterigo says:

    Have Nuremberg laws been introduced in the US? You know prohibition on marriages, sex between Muslims and non-Muslims? Have Muslims been banned from hiring Christians as servants or employees in their businesses? Have Muslims been summarily fired from all professions, aside from those that purely serve Muslim communities? Have Muslim students been thrown out of state schools and colleges? Have Muslims been banned from voting? Are there no Muslim states in the whole world willing to accept potential Muslim refugees from the US? But the most important question: have Muslims actually started to leave the US en masse? If the answers to those questions are “No,” then we aren’t living in the 1930’s, and Muslims are NOT the “new” Jews.

  12. ComradeRutherford says:

    IT’S A SERIES OF TUBES!!!

  13. ComradeRutherford says:

    At least it doesn’t say something nonsensical, like ‘Soup’…

    You can imagine her friends are all asking, “What does that say?”

  14. ComradeRutherford says:

    “The entire Augusta County, Virginia school district shut down today over TERRORIST THREATS over a lesson involving Arabic words. TERRORISTS CAUSED Athletic events, along with a weekend holiday concert, TO BE canceled.

  15. PattyJM says:

    Quite seriously, the attacks on Islam from the propaganda machine frighten me.

    There has been a constant drumbeat of anti-Islam rhetoric for a number of years now. The frightening thing is this is exactly the same sort of things that were said in Germany in the 1930s about the Jews. I’ve lived in Germany and know the German people are hardly monsters. Yet under the skilled propaganda and Hitler’s speeches these nice people committed some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

    Hitler understood the value of propaganda. A quote from Wikipedia from Mein Kampf sohows this:

    “Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as
    it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the
    theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of
    the truth which is favourable to its own side. (…) The receptive
    powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is
    feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all
    effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and
    those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas.
    These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last
    individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (…)
    Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must
    always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course
    be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one
    must always return to the assertion of the same formula.”

    The parallels between the Germany of the 1930s and the America of 2015 are too many to ignore. I sincerely hope that I am wrong in equating the two. When younger I thought that Americans could never do the horrid things the Nazis did. And then came Iraq and things like waterboarding that showed just how naive that understanding was.

  16. PattyJM says:

    The teacher could have selected an Arabic passage from a secular source. Anything from a newspaper headline to a sign from the zoo would do.

    That would have certainly defused the worst of the reaction from those who do not understand the difference between education and indoctrination. .

  17. FLL says:

    I don’t mind pics when I’m reading other comments. I use html links to YouTube videos to conserve space except for rare instances. The previous thread about Trump’s comments on Putin was so disturbing that I let Bryan Fischer’s video praising Putin show as a pic (as well as the pic underneath the video).

  18. Moderator3 says:

    ::Groan::

  19. therling says:

    Oh, and that’s not the worst of it; for years school children have been indoctrinated with the cryptic language of Al Gebra.

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  21. Buford says:

    I’ll state the obvious… while the gist of the assignment was not controversial at all, the teacher screwed up by asking students to copy an Islamic statement of faith in today’s ridiculously-sensitive political climate. Surely there could have been a way to have students copy a non-religious calligraphy example…?

  22. Hue-Man says:

    At substantial personal risk (considering some of the comments below), here’s what students were given in the class.

    I would have benefited from this kind of lesson when I was a student back in the Dark Ages. I have since learned these points and not just in anticipation of a visit to Istanbul. I’m not so convinced that having students try to reproduce the calligraphy is that productive.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35136023

    Do they have a similar lesson with Hebrew script in the same course?

  23. Jon Green says:

    I’m fine with picture comments, and I’m fine with comments that aren’t directly on-topic. It’s not like this is print, where space really is limited.

  24. Doug105 says:

    Now that that’s out of the way here is one that is a completely frivolous waste of space, happy holiday.

  25. Baal says:

    Yes, my child, that would be pleasing, yes, pleasing to Ba’al. Ba’al has spoken.

  26. 2karmanot says:

    Same here Mod…..

  27. 2karmanot says:

    Oh emjayay, you are such a killjoy this morning. Some of us LOVE pics and Gifs…. So there!

  28. 2karmanot says:

    “burnt offerings” Dear Gawd, Sir, most omnipotent, King of Lords and most high and all that, I really, really like Tri-tip. Could I eat it for dinner after all the sacrifice and stuff is over?

  29. Max_1 says:

    Allah = the same gaws the Jews and Christians pray to.
    So, there’s that…

  30. Doug105 says:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/12/18/virginia-school-district-closed-today-after-commotion-surrounding-arabic-calligraphy-lesson/#disqus_thread

    The problem is that the phrase — which was never translated on the assignment itself — actually said “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
    Did the teacher know that? It doesn’t sound like it.
    Do we know where the assignment came from? Not yet, but it also includes lessons on Judeo-Christianity.
    Was it an attempt to indoctrinate students? If it was, it was a pretty pathetic one since no one told the kids what the phrase said.

    If your going to teach something or have it made a permanent part of you, maybe you should take the time to find out just what you’re talking about.

  31. Moderator3 says:

    If this bothers you, please contact Jon. However, I enjoy the photos, so I don’t have a overwhelming desire to do something about these. They’re certainly easy enough to skip over. You have no idea how bothered I am to see a clash between two established commenters.

  32. Baal says:

    Crazed hating fund-wingnut claims “This is an opportunity to pray for all Muslims.”

    Isaiah 56:6-8
    “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

  33. nicho says:

    And people wonder why Trump is gaining in the polls. The average American is as ignorant as shit — and that means half of them are dumber than that.

    If Spain manages to squash the fascists in Sunday’s election, maybe I’ll revive my plan to move to Barcelona.

  34. emjayay says:

    And your point is….?

    As much as some are great, maybe it’s time to disable space wasting photo posting here.

    Or just vigilant censoring.

  35. 2patricius2 says:

    And who feeds that paranoia about Islam? Some ignorant Christians and irresponsible Republican politicians.

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