Published September 23, 2013
A suburban Nashville school district is tweaking its popular world studies course after at least one student’s parent objected that all five religions studied in the class were not given equal representation.
The Tennessean reports Hendersonville High School officials in Hendersonville, Tenn., canceled future field trips to local houses of worship once Mike Connor -- the stepfather of a freshman student -- complained students only visited a mosque and Hindu temple this year, rather than those of all five religions studied.
“If you can’t share equal time to all five, you shouldn’t do any of them,” Connor reportedly said at a school meeting last month. “If we as parents don’t begin speaking up, no one will.”
The decade-old, 36-week-long world studies course, an elective, reportedly includes a three-week examination of world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
In prior years, students typically visited a Jewish synagogue, a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque, according to the Tennessean. A school board member noted during the recent hubbub there was neither sufficient time nor funding to visit all five houses of worship.
After the most recent field trip – held on Sept. 4 – Hendersonville High School officials sided with Connor.
“After receiving a parent complaint regarding field trip locations, our district has reviewed the practice and decided to eliminate field trips to religious venues from this class, as it does not provide equal representation to all the religions studied in the course unit,” reportedly read a Sept. 17 statement from the school system.
“This decision was made due to the fact that equal representation in regards to field trips for all religions studied in the course is not feasible.”
Connor’s stepchild reportedly opted out of the Sept. 4 field trip, and was instead asked to pen a paper comparing and contrasting the religious teachings of Jesus, Gandhi and Muhammad.
But that also led to controversy.
The Tennessean reports the material Connor’s stepchild was given as part of that alternative assignment included a single page of Bible verses, two-thirds of a page about Gandhi and five pages about Muhammad.
The student subsequently cried foul and was initially told she would receive a zero on the assignment, the newspaper reported.
However, school officials later decided to give the student a second, alternative assignment asking that she choose three of the five religions represented in the course and compare and contrast them.
“The teacher was pushing Islamic tolerance,” Conner reportedly said. “We did not want to make this about religion – they forced us to.”
County Board of Education member Vanessa Silkwood reportedly sided with some of Conner’s arguments.
“I think his initial concerns are right on,” she told the Tennessean. “Whether or not there was true bias, I don’t know. At least there is a perception that this course is skewed and they get that because they only went to two religious venues.”
The Tennessean also cites a 2012 Hendersonville High School graduate – Kelly Fussman – as crediting the world studies course with expanding her horizons. When she took the class, Fussman reportedly said she visited a mosque and Hindu temple.
“The world studies class was really the one and only class that allowed for such an open dialogue of faith and religion,” she told the paper.
“To be able to experience what we were talking about firsthand – you can’t get that through class discussion and a textbook.”
Fussman reportedly added of the course’s teacher, Amanda Elmore: “Without her pushing the limits, I wouldn’t be so open to new cultures and traveling the world.”