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Media Hides Key Detail in the Virginia School District’s Islamic Lesson Controversy to Fit Liberal Narrative

A Breitbart News investigation reveals that mainstream media outlets incorrectly reported a key detail in the story of the 9th grade World Geography teacher in Virginia who sparked a national controversy over a “calligraphy lesson” that required students to hand copy the Arabic characters that comprise the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith.

According to news reports, the teacher said she “had not designed the assignment herself, but took it from a standard workbook on world religions.”

That was how the News Leader, a Gannett daily newspaper headquartered in Staunton, Virginia, initially reported the story on Thursday. Gannett is the mainstream media giant that owns approximately 100 daily newspapers across the country, including such liberal stalwarts as the Des Moines Register, the Tennessean (Nashville), and the Courier-Journal (Louisville), as well as the national USA Today.

But when the News Leader updated the original story on Friday morning, teacher Cheryl LaPorte’s “standard workbook” claim disappeared.

“It’s not a claim. It’s a fact. I’m not sure why it was removed. An editor must have done that accidentally. It’s still true,” News Leader reporter Megan Williams, who wrote the original story and whose byline appears on the updated story, tells Breitbart News.

LaPorte, who teaches 9th grade World Geography at Riverheads High School in Staunton, Virginia, one of several high schools in the Augusta County, Virginia School District, assigned the controversial calligraphy lesson to her class earlier this month. Within days, local parents began a pushback against the assignment that gained national attention.

A Breitbart News investigation reveals that LaPorte’s original “standard workbook” claim is inaccurate.

The local mainstream media outlet’s efforts to make the inaccurate claim disappear are but another example of how the media and educational bureaucrats work in tandem to advance a narrative that leans left.

Augusta County School Superintendent Eric Bond, overreacting to communications of disapproval from around the country that a controversial “calligraphy lesson” in a 9th grade geography class was potentially an effort to indoctrinate students into Islam, closed down all schools in the county on Thursday.

Though he had no evidence that any of these communications posed a threat, Bond advanced the liberal meme that widespread “Islamophobia” is as great a threat to homeland security as Islamist jihadi terrorism.

But a Breitbart News investigation reveals that World Religions, the 287 page workbook written in 1995 by Gabriel Arquilevich for grades 6 through 8 and published by Teacher Created Resources, is not a “standard workbook” approved by the Virginia Department of Education, nor does it appear to be consistent with Virginia’s “Standards of Learning” or the approved “Curriculum Framework” for 9th grade World Geography, despite statements to the contrary by Superintendent Bond and unnamed sources in the Virginia Department of Education.

The World Religions workbook, though still in print after 20 years, has not been updated since 1995, six years before the September 11, 2001, Islamic jihadist terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 3,000 Americans. The workbook does not appear to have been used in a great number of school districts across the country. Breitbart News contacted the publisher, Teacher Created Resources, to get an idea of the workbook’s sales numbers, but we have not yet received a response.

The book has only 3 comments on its Amazon web page, all of which are positive. The most recent comment was made in June. Two of the comments suggest the book may be used more in home schooling than public schools.

At the time he wrote the book in 1995, Arquilevich was a middle school teacher who sold the rights to a Teacher Created Resources, a California based educational publishing company. He now teaches English at a community college in California.

According to the workbook’s introduction:

Gabriel Arquilevich is a middle-school teacher in Southern California. He developed this curriculm initially for use in his own classroom due to the sparsity of prepared information available. As he writes, “I decided to create a religions unit for my sixth graders. They had expressed interest in this subject, an interest I shared. But when I set out to structure the unit, I was surprised by the limited amount of age-appropriate resources in the field of religion. Although I was able to find helpful books, my search for a comprehensive middle-grades curriculum was futile. It became clear that I would be doing the bulk of the work, assembling information from a variety of sources. From this research and in-class experience, this book was born.”

Earlier in the World Religions workbook, which addresses several other world religions, such as Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Judaism, a detailed explanation of “shahada,” the Islamic statement of faith, is included on page 101:

The first Pillar of Islam is called shahada. It is a brief prayer proclaiming the oneness of God and faith in Islam. Children memorize the shahada, an action which introduces them into the Islamic community. The shahada simply states:

“There is no God but Allah,
and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

Underneath this introduction the book shows the shahada written in Arabic for the first time.

Eight pages later in the work book, on page 109, the controversial calligraphy lesson is described.

“Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of caligraphy,” the workbook instructed students.

It is unclear whether the World Religions workbook in its entirety was required for use by all the students in the class taught by Ms. LaPorte or if she merely photo copied page 109 and distributed it as a one page assignment to the students.

The News Leader reported that “both the Virginia Department of Education and Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond have reviewed the material and found it in line with state standards and said the lesson did not violate student rights.”

Breitbart News examined those same standards for 9th grade geography, as well as the state approved curriculum framework for the course, and was unable to see where the lesson was “in line with state standards.”

Readers can judge for themselves by comparing the calligraphy lesson assigned to the students to the curriculum framework for the course, as specified for standard WHI.8d by the Virginia Department of Education:

STANDARD WHI.8d

The student will demonstrate knowledge of Islamic civilization from about 600 to 1000 A.D. (C.E.) by … d) citing cultural and scientific contributions and achievements of Islamic civilization.

Essential Understandings

Early Islamic civilization was characterized by achievements in science and the arts that transformed the Islamic world and contributed to world civilization.

Essential Questions

How did Islamic civilization preserve and extend ancient Greek, Persian, and Indian learning?

What were some contributions of Islamic civilization?

Essential Knowledge

Cultural contributions and achievements

• Architecture (Dome of the Rock)
• Mosaics
• Arabic alphabet
• Universities
• Translation of ancient texts into Arabic

Scientific contributions and achievements

• Arabic numerals (adapted from India, including zero)
• Algebra
• Medicine
• Expansion of geographic knowledge

Essential Skills

Identify, analyze, and interpret primary and secondary sources to make generalizations about events and life in world history.(WHI.1a)

Use maps, globes, artifacts, and pictures to analyze the physical and cultural landscapes of the world and interpret the past. (WHI.1b)

It is not unheard of for teachers to use workbooks or supplementary materials that have not been specifically approved by their state’s Department of Education or the administration of their own school system in their classrooms.

In some school districts it is common place. However, it is considered good professional practice for teachers who want to use potentially controversial materials to have them reviewed by their administration in advance of classroom adoption.

In this instance, it does not appear that LaPorte followed that practice.

According to at least one press account, LaPorte is a well liked and well respected teacher.

However, her poor judgment in introducing a controversial assignment, apparently on her own authority, illustrates the soft underbelly of public school instruction in most of the United States today.

Well intentioned teachers, who often have personally liberal political philosophies are able to introduce—either intentionally or “subconsciously”—their own strong biases into the classroom. (That public school teachers are primarily liberal was demonstrated in 2012, when 72 percent of the delegates to the National Education Association supported President Barack Obama.)

These liberal biases can be reflected in assignments based on teacher selected supplementary materials. This is due, in part, because teachers are often either poorly supervised or poorly guided in their selection of supplementary material for use in their classrooms. These teacher-selected supplementary materials may vary significantly from the approved standards of their local states and school districts.

In many topic areas, the paucity of quality supplementary materials forces teachers looking to add interest to their classrooms to choose sub-par materials.

A desire to keep this information from the public may have motivated the News Leader to erase the inaccurate “standard workbook” claim made by LaPorte. Several other news outlets, however, reported on the initial story quickly, thereby preserving the original inaccurate claim.

Mad News World captured the original claim made by LaPorte to the the News Leader that the assignment came from a “standard workbook.”

Calls and emails to the school asked for the teacher to be fired and parents were rightly outraged. Cheryl LaPorte, the teacher of the geography class, had not designed the assignment herself, but took it from a standard workbook on world religions, local newspaper The News Leader reported. The school reacted immediately and removed the shahada from their lesson books.

“A different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future,” a school statement said. “The school division began receiving voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area.”

It’s still astonishing that the school and the teacher don’t understand what the big deal is. Imagine a lesson that included writing the Apostle’s Creed, the Catholic statement of faith in Latin, which includes, “I believe in one Holy Catholic and apostolic church.”

Parenting.com also captured the original reporting by the News Leader in which LaPorte claimed the assignment came from a “standard workbook.”

Angry calls and emails flooded the school after students brought the assignment home. Some parents called for the firing of teacher Cheryl Laporte, who told The News Leader that she took the assignment from a standard workbook on world religion.

Virginia is just the latest state in which parents of public school students are rebelling against Islamic indoctrination, be it intentional or unintentional. In October, parents in Tennessee launched a rebellion against Islamic-centric standards and textbooks in 7th grade Social Studies classes.

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