“They hate because they fear, and they fear because they feel that the deepest feelings of their lives are being assaulted and outraged. And they do not know why; they are powerless pawns in a blind play of social forces.” Richard Wright, Native Son
A Blind Play Of Social Forces
Anyone who harms a child is a monster. Not a bad person—a monster. I believe this to the core of my soul. The ever-darkening climate of our society threatens our youth, our most valuable treasure. I have spent my entire adult life, my career as an educator, equipping children with the tools they will need to protect themselves from those who seek to prey on them. Non satis scire, I tell my pupils: to know is not enough.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. so aptly spoke, “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” The problem with schools today isn’t failing test scores. That’s just a symptom. The real problem is scarcity of character.
Character isn’t built on facts; it’s built on truths. I respect my young scholars enough to tell them the truth. They may be in fifth grade, but I do not sugarcoat or show them history through rose-colored glasses.
That’s what I have done my entire career. That’s what I was doing when misguided David made his poor choice and attacked Sara Ibrahimi. So much promise in both of them, but so ill-prepared. If only I had reached them sooner; if I could have just gotten through to them. As a history teacher, I know that while we cannot rewrite the past…well, we all know the rest.
I thought I was being kind when I kept Sara after class. I knew what I said had touched a nerve. I needed to better explain myself, to show her I didn’t hate her; I wasn’t against her.
“Sara, Islam teaches the annihilation of everything not Islamic,” I said. I told her she didn’t understand because she was a child, but if her parents were being honest with her, they would admit they envy Americans. “It is their immaturity, not necessarily yours,” I said. I was trying to be supportive.
As part of my introduction to world religions, I had asked my fifth graders what they knew about Muslims. I wanted to prepare them. I had planned a week-long lesson surrounding the events of 9/11, a tragedy none of them had been alive to experience. I was just giving them an introduction to Islamic culture.
One of them had said, “Sara’s a Muslim.”
All I had said was, “I hope she doesn’t stay one.”
It had upset her, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I had asked her to stay after class.
“You’re not a bad person, Sara, but you’re misguided,” I said. I patted her head to let her know that I am not her enemy. “It’s my job to teach you.”
People think teaching is opening a textbook and giving multiple-choice tests. Maybe with that Race to the Top garbage, but I’m a teacher, not a tester. I challenge my students to think, not regurgitate. I knew she didn’t get it even though she kept saying “Yes, sir.”
“I’m glad you understand,” I said. She didn’t understand, but with a ten-year-old girl, you can’t just keep repeating yourself hoping it sticks. I changed the subject to make her feel more comfortable. “I bet you have beautiful hair,” I said. “It’s a shame you can’t share it with the rest of us.”
She didn’t say anything, so I extended my hand and asked if we could be friends.
She made fists. “I cannot,” she said.
“Oh, right,” I said. “Infidel germs.”
It was a joke. A harmless joke. Because I’m an infidel. Well, that’s what they believe. What is not harmless is the fact that they are jealous of us because our God has provided us so much more than theirs, whom they believe is the Only True God. We Americans didn’t start any of their Islamic wars. Yes, we are at war, and while politicians may pussyfoot around it, Islam is the enemy. I will not compromise the truth.
She needed to know. Her people hate America, hate our God, hate freedom.
If she had been an adult, I wouldn’t have been so kind, but ignorance does not become stupidity until you refuse to accept what you are taught. Children must be taught how to think, not what to think. When I had told my students that it is entirely possible for a Muslim girl to grow up to be a terrorist, I wasn’t wrong. They had asked. It was a teachable moment.
I kept her after so I could explain without embarrassing her further.
Anyway, the next day I followed through on my promise to show them what we all—including plenty of children their age—saw when the hijacked planes destroyed so many lives.
The school board had questioned me years earlier about teaching my students about the slaughter of Native Americans at the hands of European invaders instead of having the kids sit in a circle with construction paper hats celebrating the first Thanksgiving.
I was in the vanguard—a leader. I took risks that others were too cowardly to take. I have risked my career in order to help my students grow. Now look at the changes in the curriculum. When I was awarded teacher of the year, the superintendent specifically mentioned my courage in teaching my students the painful history of our country.
These kids know so little of the 9/11 attacks. I remember that day as vividly as I remember the day my son was born. I wanted my students to know that moment, to live that moment as best they could, so I showed them clips from the live news feeds. They actually asked me if it was real.
Explosions, black smoke, people running, crying, praying, jumping from buildings to their deaths. Yes, it was real.
I was angry reliving that moment when they attacked us unprovoked, but I am an educator, and I educated—in a calm and direct way. There is a quote that I hold dear from a teacher who is not celebrated enough: “Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.” Helen Keller’s teacher Anne Sullivan once said that. I often feel that in a way, all children are blind and deaf, so I keep that quotation above my desk.
I guided them through a painful event in our nation’s history; I showed sympathy for a child whose parents worshipped a God who called for his followers to commit such atrocities.
As for this business about me telling anyone to call her Osama Bin Laden, that is patently false, and I certainly don’t condone bullying. Our school has a strict no bullying policy, and I go one step beyond. I developed a great lesson on what it feels like to be bullied. Other teachers use it now.
David may have stepped over the line, but he was no bully, and certainly not capable of a hate crime. He was raised in a culture of violence. If you want to point the blame, point it towards our inner-city neighborhoods. I didn’t see it then, but I rest knowing that he is getting the help he needs now.
After his father had died, he stayed in trouble: fighting, stealing, skipping school. His dad was in a plane crash, and I think watching those jets hit the Twin Towers was a very powerful moment for him.
I told him I had lost my father when I was a boy and I understood what it felt like. I told him I knew I couldn’t replace his dad but I wanted to be a friend.
David had taken to staying after, like a tutoring session. He was a budding patriot, but he was ignorant. He asked me where the terrorists were from.
I told him there were Muslims everywhere, not just in one country. That’s when he asked me about Sara. I didn’t want to lie to him. I told him that Sara’s people were terrorists, that their religion told them to kill all the infidels. That it wasn’t just 9/11. It was the Boston Marathon bombing, the shooting at Fort Hood, the killing sprees in Washington and New Jersey. There were others we didn’t know about, I said. He asked me what an infidel was, and I told him, “People like us, David.”
But I didn’t tell him to call her anything, and I didn’t tell the boy to attack her. I didn’t say, “See that little Muslim girl, sic her, boy.” In fact, I told David that I would take care of Sara. She was young, and we could still save her. I didn’t tell him to hurt her.
David once suggested that maybe people like the Ibrahimi’s needed to be with their own kind. He said he saw on TV that there are Muslim schools where all the girls wear scarves and they can pray when and where they want. You have to applaud the kid for his sensitivity and generosity.
Please do not think I condone what happened. If anyone was truly harmed in this whole mess, it was David. That shyster prosecutor said that they needed to make an example of him to let people know that hate crimes would not be tolerated.
What I can’t and won’t tolerate is this double standard. We did nothing but celebrate freedom in the greatest country in the world, and they attacked us for it. Muslims attacked Christians; and don’t give me any of that liberal boloney about how not all Muslims are terrorists and not all Americans are Christians. Name me one document from the Koran that hangs on courthouse walls. Do we say, “One nation, under Allah”? “In Mohammad we trust”? Does the first lady walk around in a burka? This is a Christian nation built on Christian ideals, and while I fully support the separation of church and state, I cannot separate my core values from my duties as a mentor.
I gave Sara a chance that most children of Muslims do not get; tried to teach her how backwards her religion is. That’s all I did, and I did so with tenderness. I’m not the bad guy here. I didn’t fly a plane into an office building full of innocent people. I don’t kill people who don’t think the way I do. I don’t treat women like cattle. I am a good man with a strong moral compass.
When moral, innocent people are under attack and they fight back, it’s called self-defense. Yes, I told David that. And I also told him that’s why it would probably be best if the United States got rid of all of the Muslims. Islam teaches the annihilation of everything not Islamic, so we have to defend ourselves instead of waiting to be attacked again.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened exactly. From what I heard, the fifth graders were going to class from lunch. He allegedly pulled off her headscarf and flicked it at her—like boys in a locker room. It’s ludicrous what the mother claimed about her eye. She didn’t almost lose an eye.
I arrived afterwards and walked David to the office where we waited for the police to arrive. I told him, “I’m with you.” I just meant I was there to calm him down.
I know not to blame David for what happened to me. He is a child, and he told what he thought was the truth. He told them about our after-school meetings; he told them what I shared about Islam—and the thing about Bin Laden; he told them about deporting Muslims; he told them he just wanted to make me proud.
What irks me isn’t that they took his word as fact or that I was put on temporary leave or even that I had to attend those absurd cultural awareness seminars. All of that is expected from a milquetoast board of education who would rather kowtow to parents than support effective teachers. No, what upsets me is that I have been forced to dilute my lessons to focus on core-content curriculum prescribed by bureaucrats and designed by dunces. Random classroom observations like drug tests for some reprobate.
When Ms. Price, our esteemed principal, asked me why I called Muslims potential terrorists, I reminded her that they still teach kids the Civil War was a war to free slaves. As if the mighty northern states looked down and saw all those poor blacks and said, “That’s wrong.” I told her that educated adults refuse to see “honest” Abe Lincoln as anything other than an emancipator. When I informed her that John Wilkes Booth was an abolitionist who saw Lincoln for what he really was, she didn’t even see the connection.
Generations of Americans who have been fed lies. We lie to them to protect them, but they need to know the truth. I have never lied to my students. I have always had evidence to back up my claims.
“If thou comest on them in the war, deal with them so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that haply they may remember.” These are the orders given to all Muslims who read the Quran. All Muslims are potential terrorists because their god orders them to be. I didn’t make that up. I’m not twisting the truth. Their religion threatens the innocence of children like Sara.
I became an educator to change lives not tell lies. I have been teaching, coaching, sponsoring clubs, and leading student groups for 32 years. I had a spotless record. I don’t broadcast all of my awards, but I’m proud of my accomplishments. When they allowed me to return to my classroom, I made a pledge to myself to not let what happened to one student stop me from making a difference. You know, every day I still pray for her, for Sara.
On the morning her mother withdrew her from school—before my ill-fated meeting with the administration—I was with a group of middle schoolers holding hands around the American flag in front of the school. I sponsor a group called “Meet Me at the Flag Pole.” We meet in fellowship and pray for those less fortunate. We pray for the innocent, for the victims of violence; we lift up to God those who attempt to poison the righteous; we pray for strength and guidance. Actually, the students lead the prayers; I am just there to support them.
Delicate Sara, her face still bruised, followed meekly behind her mother. Despite the scowl on her mother’s face, I smiled at Sara. I wanted her to know that my heart was still full of love for her. She will always be my student.