Thursday, August 2, 2007

Yeshivas and Madrassas in the Public School System

There has been a lot of recent discussion about a proposed NYC charter school that would teach Hebrew as a language and use it to teach either math or phys-ed.

One uneasy part of this dialogue has been the odd response that the "Stop the Madrassas Coalition" has given to school. SMC was created to oppose the creation of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a school that would teach students the standard DoE curriculum in Arabic. For Ben Gamla (the Hebrew school) SMC has not taken up arms, saying that Arabic was more "wrapped up with the religion, whereas Hebrew it's not." While one can say that Arabic and Hebrew are both religious languages or both secular languages, it is illogical to hold them to a double standard.

I agree with SMC that the Hebrew School is "alright." However, under that same logic I also believe that the Khalil GIbran International Academy is also "alright."

From the perspective of the DoE both of these schools would bring more students to the system who would normally go to private school. The Ben Gamla Charter School has already opened in Florida and drew a lot of students from private Jewish day schools. In the same vein, when I graduated from elementary school in Brooklyn, I saw many of my Muslim friends moving onto Brooklyn Muslim private schools like Al-Noor and Medina (both of which have been accused of having fundamentalist values) instead of continuing in the public schools system. Maybe Khalil Gibran would be able to take these students into a school with a standard curriculum and less anti-American sentiment. Furthermore, these students, in a comfortable cultural environment might be more motivated to learn than if they were thrown into your standard public school.

Joel Klein's choice in this matter is not whether to cave into religious extremists or patriotic American citizens (as some would have you believe, but whether he is ready and brave enough to ignore the pressures of xenophobia and bring a people who are sometimes maligned in our City and our Society into the larger community, fulfilling the true goal of one of the most diverse education systems in the world.

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