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The Honorable Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Arne Duncan.
ING President Maha Elgenaidi participated in a meeting this week hosted by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. Leaders of secular and faith based organizations were invited for a briefing and dialogue on the President’s education agenda and the critical role of community based organizations in American education. Moderated by Peter Groff, Director of the Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the meeting had among its speakers and discussants Arne Duncan, the honorable U.S. Secretary of Education; Martha Kanter, Under Secretary; Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary; Joshua DuBois, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; and, Paul Monteiro, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. The discussion centered around the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which you can learn more about on the Department’s website.
Maha contributed to the conversation relating to school safety and the promotion of student mental health and well being by raising the issue of Muslim and Arab students post 9/11, whom she emphasized, “are suffering enormously.” Based on findings from a 2008 Gallup poll, while the quality of life indicators for American Muslims are higher than for most other Americans, American Muslims are the least content group when compared with other religious groups. They are least likely to see themselves as thriving and respected, feel more stressed and worried and are most likely to report anger. There are also clear signs of social alienation and a sense of being excluded from the mainstream. Among young people these issues are more pronounced.
She explained that major contributing factors to these problems are misperceptions and stereotyping of Muslims and Islam in American public life. According to a January 2010 Gallup World Religion Survey, Americans are more than twice as likely to express prejudice against Muslims than they are against Christians, Jews, or Buddhists and nearly two thirds of Americans say they have little or no knowledge of Islam. Still, a majority dislike the faith.
Maha’s comments at the meeting reinforced testimony of Muslim and Sikh students and parents in a meeting that was held earlier in the year on April 26 at the ING office with Kevin Jennings, Director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools of the U.S. Dept Of Education. At the meeting, 40 students and parents spoke about how bias and discrimination they’ve experienced are connected to 9/11 and U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. Students encounter these problems both with other students and with teachers. Harassment from students includes physical assaults and confrontations, ethnic slurs and “jokes,” and bullying. Girls wearing the hijab or Sikhs wearing turbans are especially vulnerable. Problems involving teachers include ethnic and religious remark s, politicization of the classroom, attempts to discredit Islam, associating Arab-American or Muslim students and their families with terrorism and allowing or fostering a negative atmosphere. Sometimes teachers and school administrators fail to respond adequately to incidents when they occur, allowing them to continue until they escalate.
Ending her comments at the meeting this week with Arne Duncan, Maha described some of the positive efforts that are taking place to combat this and other problems such as inter-religious education and collaborations that are found in programs like the ING Interfaith Speakers Bureau, and concluded by voicing support for some of the Departments innovative programs.
To learn more about initiatives of the U.S. Department of Education, visit their website at: http://www.ed.gov/