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Springstead High IB teacher exemplifies ideals of patriotism

Kathleen Long, 64, teaches humanities and literature in the IB program at Springstead High School.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2009)

Kathleen Long, 64, teaches humanities and literature in the IB program at Springstead High School.

Let me introduce you to Kathleen Long, veteran Springstead High School humanities and literature teacher and supposed threat to the American way.

Her husband, Sonny, also a Springstead teacher, is a Marine Corps and Vietnam veteran. Her two sons are both majors in the Marine reserves, each with six years of active duty deployment in such locations as Africa, Europe and, for one of them, wartime Iraq. Her daughter briefly attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

And if you still think Long, 64, the 1997 Hernando County Teacher of the Year, is some sort of subversive character, get this: She's also the Springstead girls' golf coach.

So who, exactly, is questioning her patriotism? In a roundabout way, the protestors at the March 4 Muslim Seminar, which was sponsored by Long's Humanities and Etymology Club. This is a frightening group in its own right, I might add, originally formed by kids who wanted to read Melville and Shakespeare and discuss their works at lunch for zero extra credit. Many of these "little intellectual omnivores," as Long called them, are enrolled in the school's rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

With the encouragement of Long and Springstead Principal Susan Duvall, the club decided to host the seminar in response to last year's reported harassment of a female Islamic student who wore a traditional head scarf.

There was no prayer, no evangelizing, just secular Muslims telling students and members of the public about Islamic doctrine and Middle Eastern culture.

Still, several members of the crowd were hostile, a couple of them loudly so, trying to shout down a speaker as he explained that Muslims respect Jesus, but as a prophet rather than as the son of God, said Joanne Curtis, of Weeki Wachee, who attended the event.

The speakers remained calm. A sheriff's deputy managed to pacify the hecklers, and there were no reports of violence.

But Curtis, who said she objected to the event but did not try to disrupt it, took her concerns to meetings of the Hernando School Board and County Commission the following week.

She didn't like seeing a "pro-Islam" function at a public school, she told me afterward, and, even worse from her point of view, "I noticed that Springstead is an IB World School, and IB is owned by (liberal financier) George Soros."

Curtis, 77, said that through her recent involvement in the tea party and other like-minded groups, she has learned that Soros' long-term goal "is socialism. He's working very hard to eliminate American history. We will have a generation of people who know nothing about the founding of our country. That would destroy the Constitution … It's turning the country and the world into one."

If this was all a little puzzling, at least the context became clear when Curtis advised me I needed to check out Glenn Beck's website.

Instead, I called IB spokeswoman Sandra Coyle, who told me the organization was a private nonprofit formed to provide an international standard for frequently moving children of diplomats. And Soros has never contributed a dime.

If there's an anti-American agenda at the school, you couldn't tell it from the uniformed ROTC members streaming into class each morning, or from the curriculum. Next year, in my son's first year as a full-fledged IB student, he's due to take a full year of American history.

As for the charge that the school promotes the Muslim faith, that might be news to the several Christian-themed extracurricular groups on campus, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Sure, Curtis is a little out there, and I'd ignore her if she didn't represent a xenophobic strain in our culture that views the Muslim religion as a threat, along with any kind of global perspective such as IB, which has been frequently targeted by right-wing groups.

Remember, this was the week before U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, embarked on his series of congressional witch hunts, sorry, hearings, to root out homegrown Muslim terrorism. And Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville had scheduled an event (eventually canceled) for the day after the seminar titled, "Islam: The Fuse of Armageddon."

Please.

By most accounts, the percentage of violent fundamentalists among the estimated 2.5 million Muslims in this country is miniscule. And being an American is not about pushing Christianity. It's about tolerance and the free exchange of beliefs and information.

You disagree? Well, look at the recent wave of democratic revolts in the Middle East. They were sparked by young people who, thanks to the Internet, could compare their countries' standards of living and liberty to that of the West. Of course, they felt shortchanged.

In other words, this all happened because they know what's going on in the rest of the world.

Which is pretty much Long's job description — teaching students what's going on in the world. Tell me what, possibly, could be more American than that?

Springstead High IB teacher exemplifies ideals of patriotism 03/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 6:37pm]
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