Islam removed from draft Tenn. 7th grade social studies standards

BLOUNTVILLE — Most of the Tennessee middle school social studies standards involving Islam have been removed from new draft standards undergoing public comment in Tennessee through Oct. 28.

In seventh grade, where studies of Islam are concentrated in current standards, the whole section of “Islamic World, 400 A.D./C.E. - 1500s” has been removed in the draft, which went online from the state Board of Education for public review and input Sept. 15. However, the draft standards open for comment at include in some form most of the current ones involving Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions.

An appointed Standards Recommendation Committee will make the ultimate recommendation for new social studies standards to the SBE in early 2017. Implementation will take place in the 2019-20 school year. The 2018-19 school year will serve as a transition and training year for educators on the new standards.

Based on conversations with concerned parents, Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Michael Hughes said the proposed changes may reflect opinions among some parents, especially those who have contacted him recently.

“They’re in favor of just (taking it out of the standards). I don’t believe they want it taught at all,” Hughes said Wednesday.

For years, the standards involving Islam have drawn controversy and charges of indoctrination, following terrorist attacks by the Islamic State, and study of Islam continues to be controversial. A new law in effect this year specifically prohibits proselytizing for any religion and grew out of the controversy, and public commenter Joe Cerone at the Sept. 6 Sullivan County school board meeting decried the current seventh-grade social studies text as proselytizing for Islam.

“What Tennesseans will see in the revised social studies standards are that they have increased clarity and manageability and are age-appropriate,” Laura Encalade, director of policy and research at the State Board of Education, said via email after a question to McKenzie Manning, communications coordinator for the state board, about the removal of Islam from the standards. Department of Education spokeswoman Chandler Hopper said the department is not involved with the new standards proposal and will not be involved until new standards are adopted. Then it will put out guidance to school systems on the new standards.

“The educator teams sought to address a mixture of themes that were raised through the public review. To see specific changes, we encourage Tennesseans to take their own look at the standards and leave their ideas and comments,” Encalade said. “We are eager for all Tennesseans to participate in this important part of the process.”

Kingsport Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Carmen Bryant and Board of Education Vice President Susan Lodal, former president of the Tennessee School Boards Association, said they are  not familiar with the new standards but knew they were coming. 

“It’s still part of history,” Lodal said of Islam. We’re just not teaching it to our children, she said of that part of history taken out of the draft standards. 

Gone from the draft “Islamic World” are 11 standards, ranging from the physical location and features of the Arabian Peninsula to the expansion of Muslim rule and cultural diffusion of Islam and the Arabic language, the origins of Islam and the life and teaching of Muhammad, including the historical connection to Christianity and Judaism. Also gone is a standard about understanding the Qur’an and Sunnah, different sections within Islam, the Sunnis and Shi’ites, contributions of Muslim scholars, trade routes of Arab society, art and architecture, including the Taj Mahal, the importance of Memed II the Conqueror and Sleiman the Magnificent and writing an explanatory text about the Sha Abbas and how his cultural blending led to the Golden Age and the rise of the Safavid Empire.

Documents and texts in the current standards are to include excerpts from “The Hadith” by Muhammad and from “The Book of Golden Meadows” by Masoudi. 

However, some Muslim history remains in the seventh-grade draft standards, including in West Africa: 400-1500s C.E., where a standard is that students must be able to “explain the importance of the Malian king, Mansa Musa, and his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. In addition, Southwest Asia and North Africa: 400-1500s C.E., expects students to be able to “describe the diffusion of Islam, its culture, and the Arabic language.”

“The revision process first began with a public review of the current social studies standards,” said Sara Heyburn, executive director of the State Board of Education.”Through the review website, we solicited a wide variety of public input and feedback over four months at the beginning of 2016. Then we convened a team of highly experienced social studies educators and higher education faculty from across Tennessee to analyze all 63,099 reviews. Through hours of intensive work this summer, the educator advisory team used that feedback, along with their expertise, to develop a revised set of social studies standards that are now online for public review.” 

The state board is responsible for reviewing academic standards every six years, and recent legislation, Public Chapter 423, specifically outlines the process for review, including this website for public feedback, of the English language arts (ELA), math, science and social studies standards. 

This website is open for the second of two windows of public feedback on the state social studies standards. Educator development teams reviewed the website feedback from the first window in revising these draft standards. The state board works in conjunction with the Southern Regional Education Board to collect all of the comments submitted to this website during the second review window, and the standards will again be revised to incorporate this feedback.

For more information about the standards review process, go to Questions or concerns can be directed to

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