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  1. Education

Hillsborough School Board gets a chance to teach tolerance

Published Mar. 30, 2012

"I don't think our children need to be exposed to things that are not healthy and wholesome, especially political issues."

— A speaker at the Hillsborough County School Board opposing a Muslim leader who spoke at a high school.

"Christianity can be described in one word: Love."

— Another speaker who wants a Muslim group banned.

"Coexist? Oh please."

Yet another who protested.

And if those aren't enough did-I-really-hear-that moments in the tempest currently before the Hillsborough School Board, now we've come to this: People comparing Muslims to pedophiles and felons and expecting elected officials to agree.

How did we get here, exactly, to today's workshop on who can come into the classroom?

Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was invited by a teacher to speak to an advanced placement world history class at Steinbrenner High. (Students learn about religions like Buddhism and Christianity, too.)

Then, backlash. Four times, parents and activists complained and demanded guidelines for speakers — despite a lack of evidence that teachers and principals have shown bad judgment in this area.

Some want the School Board to ban CAIR. Others bashed Muslims in general. And more than one likened CAIR to sex offenders or racists. All of which gets especially confusing if you think high school is a good place to learn about unfamiliar things in the world, like Islam.

It's been said that when the economy is tough and the world is in turmoil, some people look for a place to focus anxiety and anger. This is daily bread for former-porn-addict-turned-crusader David Caton, whose organization is offering $1,000 to anyone reporting CAIR speakers at the school. I could not make that up.

Ditto activist Terry Kemple, who compared CAIR to a pro-pedophilia group. "If someone would be a member of (the North American Man/Boy Love Association), I wouldn't let them in a classroom," he said. "If someone were a member of KKK, I wouldn't let them in a classroom. It's no different." No different, he actually said.

Why give a guy like Kemple a platform? Because he is running for that same School Board and could win. Because he says he has his own policy for board members to adopt, and they just might.

Tempting as it is to blame home-grown hysteria, it's not just here. As the Times' Marlene Sokol reported, anti-Muslim sentiment is happening from Washington state, where parents protested Muslim leaders offering a show-and-tell on Ramadan, to Texas, where a principal transferred after parents complained about CAIR speakers who came because of bullying.

Is there room for debate on the history of CAIR? Sure, discussion is good. What's not good is wrapping your hands around the eyes and ears of kids out of fear. What's not good is assuming a local Muslim leader, a young lawyer raising a family here, comes not to educate but to indoctrinate and steal young minds — and that teachers are either in on it or too clueless to care.

At today's workshop, the board has a chance to say that education and the judgment of teachers and principals trump fear and those who exploit it. That would be a speech worth hearing.

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