This is not a school

Schools teach people how to think. This abomination is about learning not to think. It’s also an example of child abuse by smiling, cheerful parents, and a contemptible media outlet that blandly and merely reports the way religious fanatics poison kids’ minds.


  1. j says

    I have memorized a couple dozen poems, some excerpts from plays, and some chapters from novels. In English, that is. Adding literature and poetry from three other languages, I might have the equivalent of one-quarter of a Quran memorized. It’s a hobby for me. I can’t imagine having it forced on me.

    But what are you asking of the media besides merely reporting? Isn’t reporting the media’s job?

  2. Peter says

    “Making the work even more difficult, the students, for the most part, do not understand what they are reciting. Muslims believe the Koran was spoken to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in Arabic. Because it is seen as the literal word of God, the use of translations is frowned upon. Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean.”

    Can you believe this? Any parent caught forcing their child to do this should be jailed for slavery.

  3. Stephen Erickson says

    “[C]hild abuse” is an hysterical charge.

    I do love this quote: “It’s almost like a bank account for the afterlife[.]”

  4. j says

    I am acquainted with a fifteen-year-old Muslim girl who has been trying to memorize the Quran in Arabic since she was five years old. She doesn’t speak Arabic. I really feel sorry for her. She’s only halfway through the Quran.

  5. ctenotrish says

    Making the work even more difficult, the students, for the most part, do not understand what they are reciting. Muslims believe the Koran was spoken to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in Arabic. Because it is seen as the literal word of God, the use of translations is frowned upon. Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean.


    Mouth sounds, only mouth sounds . . . . (my emphasis in bold)

  6. horrobin says

    But becoming a hafiz is also believed to bring rewards in the hereafter, guaranteeing the person entrance to heaven, along with 10 other people of his choosing

    And, he added, “I want to take my parents to heaven.”

    Well, now we know why the parents want their kids to do it.

    Is Jason going to come in and complain about our muslim bashing?

  7. steve s says

    As I read this, Chris Jansing is on MSNBC talking to a “psychic who helps police solve crimes.”

  8. says

    The article glosses over the view of education for women here. Repeatedly, we’re told “the children” are being taught to recite the Koran. Yet the pictures are of boys and the interviewees are all young boys.

    Yet this is not questioned.

    True, the mothers of the boys are educated (one is an endocrinologist). But it’s an accident of history. Would they have had that opportunity if they were living in an Islamic state?

  9. Great White Wonder says

    As I read this, Chris Jansing is on MSNBC talking to a “psychic who helps police solve crimes.”

    (puts gun to head)

    (thinks better of it and points gun at TV)

    (thinks better of it and looks up Chris Jansing in the phone book)

    (thinks better of it and calls police and asks them if they need a professional psychic, $25 an hour)

  10. Ichthyic says

    contemptible media outlet that blandly and merely reports the way religious fanatics poison kids’ minds.

    It’s not the media that worries me here, it’s the lax state enforcement of it’s own standards that the media actually DO point out.

  11. says

    On the one hand, these schools are used to memorize a holy book that speaks of how God is great and wonderful for creating the Universe, and people to live in it, that a good Muslim must respect other people because all people are the children of God, that the crime of murdering one man is as heinous a crime as murdering entire races, and that, among other things, that fomenting strife was an affront to God, when engaging in warfare, a good Muslim warrior must be respectful of his enemies, and must not harm noncombatants, not even trees.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure if rote memorization is a good thing, given as how these children often don’t even understand what they’re saying.
    I mean, if the Koran remains untranslated, save for a need-to-translate-basis, from 7th Century Arabic, how did people like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or President Ahmenijadork of Iran or Sheik Nazrarallah of Hizpbollah get the idea that the Jews were the Ancient Enemies of Islam, or that it’s okay to kill people, even other Muslims, if you make an excuse?

    I’d be more permissive of these schools if they weren’t, for all intents and purposes, a factory for parrots.

  12. says

    But becoming a hafiz is also believed to bring rewards in the hereafter, guaranteeing the person entrance to heaven, along with 10 other people of his choosing, provided he does not forget the verses and continues to practice Islam.

    People honestly believe this shit. This reminds me of the little postscript that’s always attached to the email about Jesus’ footprints in the sand or how the little girl saved her mommy from cancer by praying to her guardian angel or whatever. “Forward this email to at least 10 people and you’ll have good luck for the rest of the year…”

    I think for most of the world’s “faithful,” God is nothing but a glorified rabbit’s foot.

  13. Great White Wonder says

    Holy crap, check out the irony:

    Clearly, there are some “natural objects” that do, indeed, have human facial expressions impressed upon them: the faces of the presidents at Mount Rushmore are an example cited ad nauseam by ID theorists. However, I am much more interested in “faces” that humans detect in rocks and other environmental objects that are clearly not produced by human agency. Indeed, the faces at Mount Rushmore constitute a kind of “control” for this ability, as they are clearly the result of intentionality, and therefore can be used to anchor that end of the “agency detection” spectrum (at the other end of which are things like “faces” in clouds, tree foliage, etc.). Somewhere in this spectrum is a cross-over point at which actual intentionality/agency disappears and facticious intentionality/agency takes over. It is the location of that cross-over point that constitutes the hinge of the argument between evolutionary biologists and ID theorists.

    Wow. Crap science heaped upon crap sociology. Leave it to Allen McNeill to come up with an “evolutionary” explanation for why Hannah Maxson and Sal Cordova behave the way the do.

    We must learn, in other words, to critically analyze the constant stream of “positive” agency/intentionality detection events, and discriminate between those that affect us and those that do not. It may be that this discrimination process actually involves the neurological “re-wiring” of the parts of the sensory/nervous system that produces such detection events, and this might explain, at least in part, the decreased ability of adults to believe in the existence of intentional agents in the natural environment.

    This sort of garbage is what is known as “idling Darwinism.” It’s among the lowest forms of biological science and where I was trained (not at Kornell) we were taught to avoid this sort of bullcrap.

    Yes, I think there is little doubt that the maturation of this organ called the brain is related to our ability to determine that Mt. Rushmore was carved by a person. Is it fair to point out that this is not a “brilliant” idea? It’s trivial and profoundly uninteresting.

    As Broaddus points out, there are clear anatomical and functional differences between autistics, Aspies, and non-impaired people

    Gosh, much of what I’ve read suggests that the distinction between these groups of people is anything BUT clear.

    I wonder if Allen considers himself “non-impaired” …

  14. Ryogam says

    Child abuse, not so much; child neglect, especially child educational neglect, yep, very much, and against the law in my state of Ohio. Parents can and do lose their children over the refusal or inability to get their children to school. I see no difference from the article. Guess what parents, just cause your kids say they want to learn the Koran, doesn’t mean the get to learn only the Koran. If you refuse to get your kids to a real school, the state can and should take your kids from you.

  15. says

    [cynic] One wonders what the reaction would be if this school also started offering flight instruction. [/cynic]

    It’s telling that for some students, at least, the text is being memorized phonetically — and yet the efficacy of the “work” is still somehow supposed to be valid.

    I guess you don’t have to understand “The Recitation” to get to “heaven” — in fact it could be argued that understanding, comprehension or other signs of intelligence are the least-preferred traits among the fanatically religious.

  16. PaulC says

    Obviously, memorization is not a substitute for thinking, but I don’t see how this is teaching anyone not to think. The same article suggested that the students might go on to become doctors and engineers, so they’re not being told that everything they need to know is to be found in the Koran.

    I cannot see how you’d even argue that it’s “not a school.” You could probably find a dance school that only teaches dances from a fixed repertoire rather than encouraging creativity. Is that a school?

    The whole business about achieving salvation this way is highly questionable, but absent religious content, suppose there was a “school” that taught kids to memorize the Illiad in greek, or the first 5000 digits of pi. Would that be a school? Would it be teaching them not to think? My answers are (a) yes, though not one I’d send my kids to unless they came up with the idea on their own and wanted to, and (b) not at all; it would take time away from what they could spend learning to think, but so do other things.

    I’m also not sure that memorizing long texts is bad. It’s a mental exercise, one that the human mind is capable of, and a capacity that was probably more prevalent in pre-literate societies. Just being able to accomplish this might really awaken someone to the potential of their mind even if it is a pure rote. I’m so sick of hearing people say “it’s too hard to remember all that” or “I can look it up” or “it’s just a rote skill.” I’ve often felt that pure memory skills are often underrated in our modern urge to claim that everything we do is “cutting edge” or “creative.”

  17. says

    The children, ages 7 to 14, are full-time students, in class 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, even in the summer.


    He envisions the children in the school becoming not just religious leaders but doctors, lawyers and engineers, helping to bridge the gap between the Muslim world and American society

    Yeah this seems like a good way to that outcome.

  18. PaulC says

    RevBDC: Just to clarify, the article says it typically takes 2-3 years, not as one might infer from your quote, the entire period from 7 through 14 years. I agree that if this is a full time job for even a year or so, then it definitely is taking significant time away from real education and worse than I suggested above.

  19. Lya Kahlo says

    “He envisions the children in the school becoming not just religious leaders but doctors, lawyers and engineers, helping to bridge the gap between the Muslim world and American society”

    And exactly how are they going to become part of all thes professions learning only the Koran in a language they don’t speak? is gawd going to infuse their brains with the knowledge needed for these professions by osmosis?

  20. says

    The only “control” for design that Mount Rushmore imposes is me trying not to laugh at my desk. Great White Wonder, this refutes the whole “we always detect design” argument. (Yes, the answer is dumb, but according to Leno, it’s the most common one he hears.)

  21. Koray says

    There’s nothing wrong with the concept. If you’re a muslim, you would normally wish that you could carry Koran in your head as it is supposed to guide you. I had no ‘hafiz’ friends growing up. I knew only one who had read Koran from start to finish.

    However, the great misconception is that a literal memorization of Koran is not only feasible but also immediately useful as understood by a teenager. That’s just naive. Especially by teenagers who don’t even speak arabic. In this modern age this archaic practice is a waste of time for muslims. Common sense will prevail eventually as the education level of the society goes up.

    Kids who can do this can generally do well at school. They’re not more likely to be freethinkers than those who don’t, though, and possibly even less likely.

  22. craig says

    Child neglect IS child abuse. It can be more damaging than outright physical violence.

  23. moriarty says

    contemptible media outlet that blandly and merely reports the way religious fanatics poison kids’ minds

    I don’t understand this comment at all. What’s the NYT supposed to do? This wasn’t an editorial.

    PZ, you were able to draw your own conclusions from the article. Why do you assume others cannot? Are you concerned they might not be as angry about this as you are?

  24. cerebus says

    Don’t think ‘abuse’ is excessive, but I’m unsure conventional schools don’t constitute child abuse; if they were training budding rationalists how to think instead of regurgitating textbooks it’d be a different story.

    Anyway, take solice some kids will react to such outrageously irrationalist education by becoming rabidly atheist darwinians, rebelling against their tribal elders.

  25. B. B.Breece says

    While recently talking to a young intellignet American friend we stumbled into a heated argument over the PRC’s methods of dealing with child abuse and the particular case of the Penchan Lama. His ignorance of history and conceit were profound. Of course he was a Tibetan Buddhist and his self-righteous beliefs overrode his common sense. This is so typical of those who cling to faith. Oy Vay!

  26. says

    I think a lot of the anger and annoyance that comes through in comments like PZ’s is directed more towards this mistaken idea that everyone’s ideas are equally valid. This is a different position from “everyone’s equally allowed to believe whatever nonsense they want.” When you uncritically present both points of view, the implicit message is that they’re both equally valid. Many journalists (before you jump all over me on my qualifications, let me assure you, I have a degree in journalism from a very good journalism school, in fact) are taught that they must remain objective. Many journalists, on the other hand, confuse objectivity with uncritically reporting whatever nonsense comes their way. This leads to increased misunderstanding by the public over, for example, what is science and what is not.

    In my opinion, when both sides of the story are not equally valid, it should be the job of the journalist to show that. That’s part of the “truth,” that journalists love to talk about. It’s lazy journalism to just present both sides and pretend you’re being “objective.”

    (I realize this post could be better, but I want to go home. It’s 5:30 on Friday. Sheesh.)

  27. MYOB says

    People are free to waste their lives if they want.
    They can drink themselves to death or live the life of a cocaine addict. But these kinds of schools are nothing more than the breeding grounds of the future bombmakers of America. Sure, religious training does not result automatically in a terrorist mindset, but when they are gotten to this young they only go on to know the things they were taught as children, their religion becomes more important to them than anything and the moment someone challenges that faith they will fight back. Most christians are less prone to engage in such things because even the most devote christians are not entirely that bad a nutcase.
    They will still tend to rely on less lethal means of getting thier way. But in the end their exposure to the real world has been much greater than those currently in these kinds of muslim schools. But it’s better that they attend these schools here in the U.S. than in the middle east. At least here these kids will not be surrounded by even more fanatics. They will have to attend other schools to get the kinds of advanced degrees their parents are expecting them to get like becoming doctors. That means exposure to the real world. A world of liberals and others who will break down their immunity and make them question their beliefs. It’s what’s driving the christians to such modern day madness so then why not the muslims. Let’s expose them to a world where women are given equal rights and can walk around without being surrounded by burqas. Or sit in a restaurant and notice two gay men or women sitting at the table next to them. Let them watch Showtime or other softcore porn at night when their tvs accidentally get access to the channels showing nakedness unlike anything they have ever seen.

    They will still have to go through high school to get where they are going and I doubt that even the christian schools are going to protect them from this stuff. They will either try to convert them to christians or convert them to godless liberalism.

    And as far as I’m concerned it’s better they be either here or in Amsterdam when all that happens.


  28. Nate says

    I hate to put down the public school system, but I feel at times they encourage memorization of much material (granted, not the Bible). A lot of times, we got stuck memorizing a bunch of mathematical and scientific formulas. I think it would have been a lot better to come to a deeper understanding of what the science meant.

  29. Great White Wonder says

    Most christians are less prone to engage in such things because even the most devote christians are not entirely that bad a nutcase.

    So it may seem from inside your large intestine. Try pulling your head out of your ass and check out the world that the rest of us live in.

  30. says

    I subscribe to too many blogs, one of which is called Sprittibee, the blog of a “Christian Homeschooling Mom” (I was curious, okay?) She posted her planned schedule for the school year today, and it reminded me of the article you cite. Here’s the link:
    If you scroll down to the section called “My Homeschool Curriculums This Year” you can get a feel for what the day is like for many homeschooled kids. Science is included, but it uses a Christian homeschooling curriculum called Konos. I’ve briefly homeschooled a couple of my kids when we encountered problems at public schools, but it’s always been a stop-gap measure until I put them back into school. The thought of children never hearing about evolution except when it is described as the subversive thought of an ill-defined enemy makes me sad. To this Christian mom, however, she is both protecting her kids and inculcating them with Christian virtues. I checked out some of the links she recommended, and found an appalling set of cartoons about Creation vs. Evolution. Check ’em out at Ack!

  31. goddogit says

    Most of these kids are simply wasting valuable playing time but, unless returned to some bell jar of an “Islamic” state, more than a few of these kids are being very thoroughly inoculized AGAINST religious fanaticism by this nonsense. They will continue their real education, and in talking with people of different viewpoints will realize that, however kindly intended their parents and “teachers” were, they were also essentially full of shit.
    Unfortunately, the same number (even a few more) will react just enough to allow themselves to direct their religion into selfish, even fanatic, forms.

    A very, very few will develop the seeds of strength and compassion that the Koran (entirely unexceptionally) contains, becoming decent, even devout-but-skeptical, muslims.

  32. G. Tingey says

    Quite a few muslims say that translation of the Koran is not to be allowed, because it cannot be understood, except in Arabic.
    Another little blackmail trick.

    Really, though, have you all ben so worried about your home-groen christian loonies that you did not know about this really dangerous insanity?

    We’ve got this lunacy over here, as well, but people are trying to make sure that it is not the ONLY “education” that children get, if they are subjected to it.
    British law varies between Scotland and England, but basically says “children must be educated”. And there are certain criteria that must be met, no matter what the school, or home education. And inspectors go round to make sure.

    This does help a little, though our education syaytrm, like yours, is suffering.

  33. says

    “He envisions the children in the school becoming not just religious leaders but doctors, lawyers and engineers, helping to bridge the gap between the Muslim world and American society”

    And exactly how are they going to become part of all thes professions learning only the Koran in a language they don’t speak? is gawd going to infuse their brains with the knowledge needed for these professions by osmosis?

    So it amazes me how much opining goes on about these people by those who know little of them. I know a few hafizes here and there, and yes, most of them have or will become doctors and lawyers and engineers. And none of them are particularly emotionally traumatized by Quran-memorization, in case you were worrying…

  34. says

    Jude, I followed your link and ended up Googling “A. Beka textbook.” The A. Beka website has this to say about their science textbooks:

    While secular science textbooks present modern science as the opposite of faith, the A Beka Book science texts teach that modern science is the product of Western man’s return to the Scriptures after the Protestant Reformation, leading to his desire to understand and subdue the earth, which he saw as the orderly, law-abiding creation of the God of the Bible. (

    Crazy, baby. So I guess not many Catholics are buying these A. Beka books, since the Reformation was “Western man’s return to Scripture.” And science is about understanding and subduing nature in accordance with God’s will. So is evolution a heresy against the essentially Godly nature of science?

    When you look more closely at these fundamentalist movements, you start to see how they construct their alternate reality – how they put the pieces together. Tell them America was founded by scientists, based on secular, rational principles and not Christian values, and they’ve got the answer to that right here.

    Bad Science is 20th century science – Darwin, Freud, Marx… all this “modern” stuff that fundamentalism was reacting against at the turn of the last century. The Founding Fathers’ science was the science of God.

  35. says

    Schools teach people how to think.

    Really? I thought schools educate people. Education is not “teach[ing] people how to think.” “Teach[ing] people how to think” is, well, akin to brainwashing, isn’t it? And, of course, your preferred way of how people should think is in an atheistic manner. So basically you’re admitting that you’re not educating your students, but teaching them how to think atheistically, correct?

  36. RedMolly says

    Jason, it may have escaped you, but there is a profound difference between “how to think” and “what to think.”

    “How to think” means learning principles of logic, critical thinking, reading for understanding beyond basic comprehension. (I refer you to Bloom’s Taxonomy for a description of higher- and lower-level orders of thinking.)

    “What to think” means “All truth is found in Book X. It is incontrovertible, infallible and unquestionable.”

    Do you see the difference?

  37. oldhippie says

    Get the quran recited by a modern rap musician, stick it on an Ipod, give it to your kid and they won’t have to take three years out of their lives.

  38. ConcernedJoe says

    RedMolly, that was a great response to Jason. Now my two cents:

    Driving into students anything that must be taken as fact and immutably accepted is NOT education. It may be teaching, but it is not education.

    OK, OK! All right all ready! I know the Jasons of the world are conjuring up a million examples of how PZ and other secular teachers do just this! So let’s take a few examples in general to illustrate how fallacious Jason-like counterpoints will actually be.

    (1) Math: isn’t that forced fact learning? NO! Good education brings students through a series of testable proofs that lead to rules, which lead to formula, which lead to … well you get the drift. And if you challenge 2+2=4 and prove your point correctly you will be a hero (an A student I’d say), as opposed to being cast to hell as blasphemous.

    (2) Chemistry/Physics: isn’t that forced fact learning? NO! Those of us who have spend late nights in labs know better (we actually were forced to prove it!) And apply comments re: math. Like if I could have properly shown another mechanism other than a back side nucleation mechanism to a known reaction … you think I’d be castigated? Again, I’d be a hero!

    (3) Biology: isn’t that forced fact learning? NO! LABS LABS LABS. Articles, articles, articles. Research paper requirements demanded that I CHALLENGE the norm and posit new opposing ideas and concepts. So apply comments above.

    (4) Economics: isn’t that forced fact and politically correct opinion learning? NO! Discussions, discussions, discussions. Articles, articles, articles. Viewpoints galore. Sure there were fundamentals (formula, etc.) to learn, but their application was NEVER presented as “one size fits all.” How you analyzed facts and made conclusions counted. Different answers to the same question could be “right.”

    I could say same about any subject I took in my good high school classes and in college. Even religion and metaphysics as taught by Brothers (admittedly the Sixties got to them and eventually many left religious order and married) had free and open discussions.

    What fundies do to their children IS child abuse, in many instances. It is so obviously child abuse. This is 2006, we should not allow it!!! Rational people – have the guts to move to the next level of our development. Make this an age of enlightenment not a fearful leap back to past centuries. Stand up and draw the line. Do not be timid. DEMAND rationality and modern scientific thinking for our children. Value FREEDOM (does NOT include “freedom” to warp and abuse children)! Value FREE THINKING! Get out of your comfort zone! Take a stand!

    PS: Before I get accused of denying parents control of their children or of denying freedom of expression re: religious ideas, etc. I am NOT!! I would defend the right of parents to subject their children to their ideas, and their values, customs, etc.. BUT they also cannot deny their children at the same time access to competing ideas, and FORCE them to tow an intellectual line exclusively that is strictly a personal choice for the parents. And further they definitively step over a line when they “institutionalize” them to in essence subject them to a “brainwashing” like environment to instill any exclusive idea, let alone ones that essentially promote close-minded, intolerant, antiquated, dangerous, anti-freedom thinking. Home is home, and church is church. But imprisonment (physical OR intellectual) is imprisonment too!

  39. PaulC says

    Jason, your comment is so wrong that I have to believe you’re being disingenuous–you cannot possibly be that dense.

    In context, and in conventional usage, “learning how to think” means acquiring the skills needed to think–i.e., to be able to start with some premises, follow them through to conclusions, and provide an argument to support those conclusions.

    If you search for the phrase “how to think” (I just did) you get a lot of results on how to think like a particular kind of person–a computer scientist, a lawyer. But I challenge you to find one instance in which the unqualified phrase “how to think” is intended to mean “the right way to think” or “my way to think” or whatever you claim you interpreted PZ to say.

    In short, this is roughly synonymous with “to educate” (though I would argue that this a broader category that includes the transfer of pure factual knowledge as well as skills, such as reading, that are useful to thinking persons but are not thinking). So your objection is just silly.

    BTW, a school can do a lot of things other than “educate” in some general sense. A place in which you acquire the skills to bake a pie that’s identical to one purchased at Marie Callender’s is still properly called a school. So is the institution in question here.

  40. says

    Nate: You’re right, at least here. But the trouble I have with this place is not so much the memorization, or even the memorization of something dubious. It is rather that it is all these young folks are doing. If an muslim wants to memorize his holy book, bully to him, but this is just an example of “under age religion” as far as I am concerned. (Parallel: under aged drinking or smoking.)

    (re: other comments) I do wish I could figure through the bootstrapping problem, though.

  41. Mnemosyne says

    Honestly, I don’t see this as all that much more “dangerous” than sending your kids to Hebrew school so they can be bar/bat mitzvahed. But maybe that’s because I don’t see Islam as an inherently evil religion, unlike some other people here (MYOB, I’m looking at you).

    I think it would be far better presented as an after-school or weekend program (as Hebrew school is) than as a full-time endeavor, but that’s for the state to determine.

  42. says

    That Althouse post and its comments are crazy and even worse than the ones around here. At least here, I already knew that there’s a fairly consistent opposition to religious schools as such. The only knowledgeable comment in the dozens on Althouse’s blog was Eteraz’. I find the concern for these kids future almost funny.

    YES, there is a segment of the Muslim world (I’ve met it) that does think that Qur’an memorization is the only thing in life. Most of that segment, believe it or not, has little or nothing to do with terrorism, which *requires* education.

    These kids are not that segment AND they also aren’t the segment that is likely to indulge in terrorism. Their parents believe in further educational success, and most of these kids will get it. I know. I’ve seen it. I come from a background similar enough to Eteraz’ to know about these things. Some of them will even become biology professors teaching evolution, I have no doubt.

    And no, they won’t rebel either. Seriously, people are projecting their own cultural milieu and angst on these kids. And I can’t help but think that it’s more than the strident atheism—yes, I’m playing the discrimination card; there’s no doubt that the fact that these kids are Muslim kids and subject to the media stereotypes about Muslims plays a role here.