Nothing Extreme About Indonesian School Attended by Obama

ByABC News
January 25, 2007, 8:18 AM

Jan. 25, 2007 — -- An ABC News producer and crew visited the school in Jakarta, Indonesia, attended by Sen. Barack Obama in his youth and found it to be a normal government public school without even a hint of the extremist elements reported by various conservative news outlets in the last week.

"These rumors about our school being an Islamic extremist school are completely incorrect," assistant headmaster Akhmad Solihim told ABC News. "We are a regular public school."

Solihim confirmed that Obama attended the school as a child, before he transferred to a local Catholic school. The school featured both boy and girl students, basketball, and classes in many subjects. A class in Islam was matched by one in Christianity, complete with teachings from the New Testament, a sign featuring the Lord's Prayer and a painting of Jesus. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. One student had a SpongeBob SquarePants bookbag.

"Here we learn mathematics, science and social studies," one sixth grader, 11-year-old Rangga, told ABC News.

This week, sensing a need to respond to the untrue allegation repeated in conservative media outlets that he had been educated in an Indonesia madrassa, Obama and his staff aggressively launched a campaign to debunk the story, perhaps indicating a fear that some may believe it.

Some of his advisers have invoked lessons learned from the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., which waited several weeks to respond to questionable charges against his service in Vietnam launched by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

"When I was six, I attended an Indonesian public school where a bunch of the kids were Muslim, because the country is 90 percent Muslim," the Democratic presidential hopeful told ABC's Chicago affiliate WLS-TV. "The notion that somehow, at the age of 6 or 7, I was being trained for something other than math, science and reading, is ludicrous."

Obama described the allegation as indicative of the "climate of smear" associated with presidential campaigns and called on the press to make sure "stories are substantiated."

Obama defended his education at "Sekolah Dasar Negeri 04," which roughly translates as government elementary school No. 4 in Indonesia, where he moved at the age of 6 after his mother married an Indonesian man. After two years at the government elementary school, Obama transferred to a Catholic school.