Schools urged to promote tolerance in wake of Oak Creek temple shooting

Germantown Police Chaplain the Rev. Greg Young writes a note of support to the Sikh Community during Oak Creek National Night Out on Tuesday.

Germantown Police Chaplain the Rev. Greg Young writes a note of support to the Sikh Community during Oak Creek National Night Out on Tuesday. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Aug. 14, 2012

Germantown - Members of the public on Monday asked the school district to do a better job of promoting tolerance and diversity in the schools.

In the wake of the recent shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek - where Wade Michael Page opened fire and killed six and wounded three before turning the gun on himself - two Germantown residents urged the School Board to spread tolerance and further educate students about other cultures. Their suggestion was met with applause among audience members.

"I am not Sikh, but as someone who shares ethnic ties with these people, as a fellow Wisconsinite, as a person who also has been harassed because of her religion growing up, I really feel with these people and it really hit home for me, these shootings last week, and I recognize this opportunity to make a change," said Sundus Arain, a Muslim woman, who recently graduated from Germantown High School.

Arain said her education, particularly world history, lacked basic teachings about cultures around the world. In fact, Arain said, when the class began the Islam unit, she taught portions of the class because she felt there were inaccuracies in the lesson.

"My world history curriculum was dismal," she said. "It only focused on Europe. If it even focused at all on Africa, Asia, Australia or any other areas, it still focused on Europe - whether it was conquest or trade."

Lisa Laskowski, a Germantown resident, echoed those sentiments and said teaching tolerance is increasingly important. She urged the board to do more to promote diversity in the schools.

"Historically, the institutions that have thrived and succeeded are those that have promoted diversity," Laskowski said. "By educating our children in an ethnocentric manner we are doing them a disservice and we aren't preparing them for the real world at all."

Arain proposed two options. The first would change the history curriculum by either encompassing the whole world; the second would be to have two courses - one that would teach western civilization with a focus on America and Europe and a second that focuses on the rest of the world.

"I think it's a very achievable goal, and if we work on the curriculum now, we can get it approved in time for the 2013-14 school year," she said.

Arain also asked the leaders in the district, including administrators, School Board members and teachers, to help develop an understanding and tolerance within the Germantown community.

Laskowski said the way to develop that tolerance is in the schools by expanding the history and social studies curriculum, including broader and global cultural teachings and expanding the language programs to include languages such as Mandarin.

"We need help from the top. I should not have had to teach some of the three-day unit on Islam, I should not have been harassed my junior year by a parent for my religion in a public school. That is completely wrong, and I should not have gone through that and others shouldn't either - and I think the example comes from leaders in the community," Arain said. "In the wake of these shootings how do you plan to address this in our community of Germantown?"

The board did not address the issue Monday; however, Board President Bob Soderberg said the board will review the information brought forth. He said the board welcomes diversity in the school district.

"I'll take your thoughts and I'll talk to my colleagues and we'll identify the opportunities, and if things need to be fixed we'll make sure we fix them," he said.

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