BRISTOL TOWNSHIP SCHOOLS - Every year, social studies teacher Lisa Volpe conducts an informal poll in her seventh-grade class in Lower Bucks.
What is Islam?
“Before Sept. 11, most kids didn't know what Islam was. We would do brainstorms and most thought it was a place. Now, kids say 9/11 and terrorism. And honestly, when we watch the news, that's what it appears to be all about,” said Volpe, a teacher in Bristol Township's Benjamin Franklin Middle School.
But each year, the stereotype fades.
Volpe teaches an introductory unit on the Muslim faith, part of a curriculum that includes the teaching of the world's major religions.
“I thought in the beginning that Muslims were just girls with mustaches and terrorists because I saw 9/11 [on TV],” said seventh-grader Steven Evens.
After the three-week course that ended this month, Steven said: “[Muslims] actually do a lot of stuff like we do. They like clothes, sports, high school. They've got friends.”
Another classmate, Jennifer Hinkie, said: “I thought Muslims were all terrorists ... because of the news.” But after the class, she said, “They're not all terrorists. Just because they live [in Iraq] doesn't mean they're terrorists.”
Volpe's students were just learning the basics — such as who Muhammad was, the differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and the fact that most Muslims are not Arabs. . .
“Unfortunately, the way most Americans are introduced to Islam is through the lens of terrorism and the invasion of Iraq,” said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“It's very important that we educate our youth on what Islam is about and what the Islam community stands for in an objective manner,” she said.