Columnist on Common Core’s Islamic influence: No, not really

A recent criticism of Common Core standards from a Johnson City church group for an alleged emphasis on Islam (previous post HERE), was somewhat off base, says News Sentinel columnist Pam Strickland.

There are a few problems with Parker’s rants. First, the state’s social studies standards, from kindergarten through 12th grade, aren’t based on the Common Core. The social studies standards, as adopted by the state Board of Education in July 2013, were written by a committee of Tennessee educators from rural and urban districts. One of the educators who helped write the standards, including those for the seventh grade that Parker doesn’t like, is Judy Newgent, Knox County social studies specialist.

The seventh-grade standards require students to spend a year on world history and geography, starting with the fall of the Roman Empire, continuing through the Middle Ages and on to the initial exploration of the Americas. Each school district creates its own curriculum based on the state standards.

Newgent said that the Islam unit was previously crammed into sixth-grade social studies, which went from early civilization to exploration. The new standards split the old standards into two years, Newgent said, allowing the students’ knowledge to go deeper and broader, giving the students a better base of the materials to carry forward into high school.

The summary of the standards states that the students will “explore social, cultural, geographical, political and technological changes that occurred after the fall of the Roman Empire” and in medieval Europe, as well as the Islamic world, Africa, China and Japan. However, the heavy emphasis is Western civilization in Europe during the Renaissance and Reformation.

Several world religions are studied. Newgent emphasized that the focus was “not so much belief systems as to introduce (students) to the religions of the world.”

Indeed, among the many points the standards call for are for the students learning about important Christian history, including the significance of Constantine, who made Christianity the established religion of the world instead of a renegade upstart; the Crusades, where Christians weren’t so nice to those who weren’t fellow believers; and the many dissenters from the Catholic Church, including the main ideas of Martin Luther (salvation by faith), John Calvin (predestination), Desiderius Erasmus (free will) and William Tyndale (translating the Bible into English).