Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Hidden Curriculum of a Cartoon

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This is a good school-related story gone bad. I was at first elated when my kid told me about a cartoon her teacher showed in religion class, where the story behind a Quranic verse they’re learning is told. The Quranic chapter is called “The Elephant” and tells the story of how the Kaaba was almost destroyed by Abraha and his army riding elephants (no idea why they owned elephants!) but was saved by special birds God sent to kill them (violent stuff). Prophet Muhammad was born that year, and at the time, years were called after significant events, so it was “the year of the elephant”.

So I decided to add the video to my playlist since she liked it and to try to find more.

The part that annoyed the heck out of me when I watched is that when the cartoon depicts Abraha and his people, there is an abundance of crosses. As in, symbols of Christianity. 

First of all, I never knew this guy was Christian. But at the time, Mecca was overwhelmingly pagan, and people used the Kaaba to pray to statues and not God. If Abraha was Christian, it would make total sense as a monotheist that he would find this something attackable. I’m not endorsing lack of religious freedom, but thinking historically, it was a normal thing for monotheists to try to spread their religion in these ways. Though of course we don’t know about intentions. But superficially, it wouldn’t have seemed like a bad thing. In Islamic tradition, the person who actually explained to Muhammad that he was a prophet was a Christian, Waraqa Ibn Noufal.

But the BIG PROBLEM I have with it is that Egypt is living at a time when we really need to build a constructive, harmonious society. Showing a video like this subtly hints to kids that people who wear a cross are “bad” and that’s just the worst message you can give and the image may stay deep in their subconscious. So now I’m gonna have to watch it with her again and explain that in fact most people who wear crosses are good, they are our friends, they believe in God, too. And she doesn’t yet understand much about religion. 

I often find myself explaining to her some religious concepts by discussing cartoons with superheroes and supervillains. There’s a particular one she watches these days called Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir, and the supervillain Hawk Moth really helped me explain the concept of the devil that gets to people to make them temporarily do bad things.

And yes, in case you’re wondering. All this child-level religious explanation makes religious things sound ridiculous. I’m not sure if there are ways to express to my child where I’m at with religion or to explain religion at her level in ways that don’t make me feel comfortable. I might be going through a phase. Or it may be that everyone who is a person of faith, who has to explain religion to their kids finds it difficult. I don’t know. Or I may be going about it all wrong. Or I may be unconventional in my own thinking but don’t know how to do that with a kid. I don’t know.

But I sure as heck don’t want my kid to watch that video uncritically again. And I’ll make sure to watch it and discuss it. I know she may have missed the crosses and I may bring them to her attention now. But to me it’s better to make the hidden curriculum explicit so we can critique it, than to bury our heads in the sand!

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