FARMVILLE, N.C.—

Parents and students alike were surprised and unsettled by the presence of Islam in their high school vocabulary lessons.

The vocabulary was presented as a worksheet in the school’s 12th grade English class. “It really caught me off guard,” a student said. “If we are not allowed to talk about any other religions in school – how is this appropriate?”

“I just looked at it and knew something was not right – so I emailed the pages to my mom,” said the student.

“In the following exercises, you will have the opportunity to expand your vocabulary by reading about Muhammad and the Islamic word,” the worksheet read. It proceeded to use words such as astute, conducive, erratic, mosque, pastoral, and zenith to describe various aspects of Islam.

“The zenith of any Muslim’s life is a trip to Mecca,” one sentence read. Another introduced “erratic” with this sentence: “The responses to Muhammad’s teachings were at first erratic. Some people responded favorably, while other resisted his claim that ‘there is no God but Allah and Muhammad his Prophet.’”

A “complete this sentence” section included the statement: “There are such vast numbers of people who are anxious to spread the Muslim faith that it would be impossible to give a(n)___ amount.”

One parent was “extremely troubled” by the lessons her child was given. “What if right after Pearl Harbor our educational system was talking about how great the Japanese emperor was?” the parent asked. “What if during the Cold War our educational system was telling students how wonderful Russia was?”

She added that the lessons were “classwork disguised as Islamic propaganda.”

“It’s very shocking,” she said. “I just told my daughter to read it as if it’s fiction. It’s no different than another [type] of fictional book you’ve read.”

The school defended the lesson, which was found in a state-adopted supplemental workbook and met “Common Core standards for English Language Arts.”

“The course is designed to accompany the world literature text, which emphasizes culture in literature,” a school statement read.

The school district did concede there were concerns “related to the religious nature of sentences providing vocabulary words in context.”

“Our school system understands all concerns related to proselytizing, and there is no place for it in our instruction,” the statement said. “However, this particular lesson was one of many the students in this class have had and will have that expose them to the various religions and how they shape cultures throughout the world.”

When asked about the timing and content of additional worksheets with vocabulary relating to the Jewish, Christian, and Hindu faiths, the school district failed to respond.

A student said the class has yet to have any worksheets about other religions.

The school later replied to the request regarding worksheets featuring other faiths with this statement:

The class recently finished reading Night by Elie Wiesel. As part of the study of this book, students were exposed to Judaism. I’m told that one of the next couple of lessons that will be taught in this class includes an examination of Psalm 23 as part of the lesson. Additionally, the workbook in question has another vocabulary lesson with words used in a passage about India’s three great beliefs (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism). Keep in mind that this workbook is just one of numerous resources used in the course. Students are exposed to various cultures, values, and beliefs through the reading of multiple types of literature, but teachers certainly aren’t advocating for any of them.

The school did not answer the questions regarding specific worksheet content or the dates the lessons were to be presented.

Besides writing, R. McKinley loves reading (especially historical fiction and science books), playing piano and flute, being involved in politics and community, working out, enjoying nature, and hanging out with four wonderful cats.