New Jersey Parent Outraged ‘My Name is Osama’ Story Taught on September 11 Anniversary

The parents of children in a New Jersey middle school said they were outraged after learning a social studies teacher had the class read a fictionalized short story about Islamophobia titled “My Name is Osama,” on September 11.

The father of a Glen Meadow Middle School student, former U.S. Marine Ed O’Rourke, told the New Jersey Herald it was “grotesque” that the unidentified teacher taught the story about an Iraqi boy and immigrant to the U.S. named Osama who is bullied for his Muslim heritage instead of teaching the class about the 2,996 people who died on that date in the 2001 terrorist attacks. O’Rourke pulled his teenage daughter out of the class after Vernon Township administrators were unsure if they’d “punish” the teacher who had students read the story on the 17th anniversary of the attacks.

My Name is Osama The parents of children in a New Jersey middle school said they were outraged after learning a social studies teacher had the class read a fictionalized short story about Islamophobia titled “My Name is Osama” on September 11. Screenshot: My Name is Osama

Vernon, New Jersey, is about 50 miles from the site where planes struck both towers of the World Trade Center. The terrorist mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, Osama bin Laden, was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011. 

"I thought it was a joke at first," Ed O'Rourke said of the short story being read on 9/11. "I couldn't believe it."

The 2002 short story about anti-Arab bigotry through the eyes of a young boy was written by Sharifa Alkhateeb, who was an educator and Muslim advocate, and Steven S. Lapham of Middle Level Learning, a publication under the National Council for the Social Studies organization. The council is a politically unaffiliated organization that supports U.S. social studies curriculum standards and teaching content.

The brief story illustrates the dangers of bullying and name-calling while attempting to highlight the benefits of tolerance. It details the thoughts of an Iraqi immigrant boy named Osama who faces taunts of "Terrorist!" in his U.S. school following the attack on September 11. The fictionalized story depicts how the boy fights back against the bullies and ends up getting suspended from school for fighting. In one scene, several classmates ridicule the boy's mother for wearing a hijab. "Your mom wears a bag on her head," they taunt. 

Glen Meadow Middle School and township officials including Principal Edwina Piszczek and Acting Vernon Superintendent Charles McKay met with O’Rourke Tuesday to discuss the teaching of the story on 9/11. O’Rourke, whose sixth-grade daughter told him and his wife Jodi about the book over dinner, said the administrators understood the “horrific” timing of the lesson. O’Rourke is demanding the teacher be punished.

"They couldn't have been better as far as letting me vent, and agreed that the timing couldn't have been more horrific," O'Rourke said. "They said they were unaware the teacher was planning to do this and that it fell through the cracks, though when I asked if they were planning any disciplinary action against the teacher, they said they weren't sure at this point."

O’Rourke compared the reading of the story on 9/11 to a situation in which a Jewish holiday is used as a platform for a story about Germans not being bad as a whole.

"It would be like, on a day about the Holocaust, doing a made-up lesson about a boy named Adolf being bullied by Jewish kids and saying we shouldn't blame all Germans—or don't pick on the poor kid named Adolf on the Jewish holidays," O'Rourke told the New Jersey Herald. "It's grotesque."

Township officials have since acknowledged the situation but have refused to name the middle school social studies teacher. Nationwide, there are no official social studies curriculum standards for how the September 11 attacks should be taught in public schools.

"I know a lot of firemen and cops who lost family members on 9/11, but unlike the religious extremists who would have no problem blowing all of us up, our society is not going out blaming all Muslims," O'Rourke told the New Jersey newspaper. "But there's also an ideology of people that causes some people to want to kill us and to not respect women's rights, and that should be taught as well. Instead this teacher was able to influence an entire class with a tainted story made up to show Muslims as victims."

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