South Carolina school standards that have been in place for sixth-graders since 2011 recently came under fire for their teaching of Muslim life.
“Up until the past week, we’ve never received a single complaint on them,” said State Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown. “It’s the current political climate, but we can certainly understand parents being concerned. … With some of the rhetoric that has been going on in the news, they’re thinking about those types of things.”
Brown estimated there have been fewer than 10 complaints via social media, email and phone calls, and most of them were from conservatives in the Southwest.
“The majority of our Facebook and Twitter comments were from people in Texas and Oklahoma and they tended to be right-wing activists, not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he said.
Earlier this month, a parent of an Alston Middle School student complained to a local television station after her child’s social studies class was given a worksheet on the Five Pillars of Islam, which outline Islamic tenets.
The parent, who remained anonymous, took to social media to complain that the school should get parental permission before teaching religious values, just as it does before teaching sex education.
Dorchester District 2 also has not had any complaints about the curriculum until this month, spokeswoman Pat Raynor said.
“A lot of it is playing out on social media,” she said. “There were a couple of people who called, but they really didn’t identify themselves as parents.”
Like sixth-grade classes across the state, Alston’s Survey of Civilization class studies different religions, economics, social structure and geography. "They study a variety of civilizations and all that goes along with the culture of any civilization,” Raynor said.
In addition to Islam, students also learn about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. “It’s just a study of the cultures,” she said. “It’s not a religion course.”
The state's social studies standards have been in place for six years and were currently under review when the complaints started, Brown said. Standards are reviewed on a cyclical basis.
“The Five Pillars are in the standards, and that seems to bother some people so that’s something we’re looking at very closely,” he said. The standards also call for teaching about the Torah and the Bible.
“If you search the 187-page document, I think ‘Islam’ appears twice,” he said. “If you search ‘Christianity,’ it appears like 20 times”
The review process includes public meetings during which residents can give input, he said. For more information on standards, visit ed.sc.gov.