"Parochial" Schools

Monday, August 27, 2007

Harvard law professor Noah Feldman looks at the controversy over a public Arab-language school in Brooklyn and a Hebrew-language school in Florida, plus Mona Eldahry, founding director of Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, or AWAAM, protests the resignation of the founding principal of the new Khalil Gibran Leadership Academy.


Mona Eldahry and Noah Feldman

Comments [36]

Natalie Burrows from Brooklyn, NY

It is interesting that so few comments focus on the principle of separation of church and state in our country. It is naive to think that any special language and culture school will not "tip" eventually in favor of the specific ethnic group.
Public schools unite many different cultures and ethnic groups and tend to bring us together when many influences pull us apart. This is essential for a functioning democracy. I can only ask what is next for NYC - a Hebrew public school, a Mormon public school - the list of possibilities is endless.
I have read that nine different languages are available in our public high school system. Since Arabic is not one of them, why not add it to the public school curriculum rather than fund (at taxpayers expense) an entire school dedicated to one culture?

Sep. 07 2007 07:25 PM
Dave from Brooklyn

Hey, Ellen!

Thanks for your kind response. I'm really glad you looked up the Dialogue Project and are considering coming to an event. If you do come, you will find many folks there, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who are very pro-Israel. I've been involved with the project for a while and I've found it to be a very gratifying experience - and a good place to safely vent when you're "seeing red!".

Best wishes- Dave

Aug. 27 2007 07:19 PM
ellen from brooklyn

Hi Dave: Thanks for the suggestion to look at thedialogueproject.org. One of the pages defines "dialogue" as opposed to "debate", and that's what is so sorely needed. My responses were less dialogue and more debate, and I see I need to step back when I'm seeing red and weigh other points of view. I was so anxious to respond to the others that I didn't stop to read all of your response because I was so intent on making my own point. It would be interesting to attend one of those dialogues. Thanks for your direction.

Aug. 27 2007 06:46 PM
Derek Wong from NYU

Mona Eldahry was a little scary....whitewashing the term "intifada" in one of the most bizarre examples of Arab spin I've heard recently...is not going to fly, even in multicultural NYC...

Reminds me of how some whitewash the word "jihad" - as if brainwashed masked hordes of gun-toting terrorists screaming "Jihad, Jihad" while they goosestep are yelling about a genteel "personal struggle."

No one buys it....

Aug. 27 2007 04:12 PM
Derek Wong from NYU

The caller who said that it was "insult" to his religion and culture that the new principal was Jewish exposes the kind of Islaimc supremacism that many fear will be taught at the school. If the school is all about the Arabic language & not Islam, what difference does the faith of the prinicpal matter.

Aug. 27 2007 04:05 PM
Dave from Brooklyn

Hi Ellen and Steven-

Ellen, I hope that you were somewhat reassured by my post about the fellow who felt insulted by the appointment of a Jewish woman to head the Arabic language school. I, as an Arab, was rgeatly disappointed to hear such a sentiment expressed and wish to assure you that that caller's sense of injury is not a universal one among Arab New Yorkers. By the way, I notice you are from Brooklyn, too. Do you know about The Dialogue Project? It's a wonderful program that brings together Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists to discuss issues that affect us. Your question about some of your fellow Jews is the sort of thing that can be safely brought up there. www.thedialogueproject.org


I'm sure that the women of AWAAM would fight oppression against women anywhere. You could probably ask them your question directly at www.awaam.org

Aug. 27 2007 02:44 PM
Steven Weiss from Princeton, NJ

When I first heard about the "Intifada NYC" T-shirt I was a bit confused. The group that put it out advocates for women's rights in general and for the rights of women of color in particular, so I wondered whether they worked against the oppressive treatment of women in many Muslim societies. Having heard Mona Eldahry's interview with Brian, I think I know how she would have responded had Brian asked the question, but I regret that he did not.

Aug. 27 2007 02:04 PM
ellen from brooklyn

In response to Ms. Stienberg:

With all due respect, if WNYC has any bias at all, it is sympathetic to Palestinians. Brian Lehrer, who rarely takes sides unless an outrageous point of view is made by a guest or caller, adds moderation and even-handedness to his shows: case-in-point that he didn't give an opinionated response to the caller who remarked that it's a disrespect and an insult to Islam to have a Jewish pricipal. (And might I add to the person who felt that there would be an expression of outrage to a Syrian principal at a Jewish school, while Jews would consider it a questionable and inappropriate appointment, they would NEVER consider it a disrespect and an insult).

Second, while biblical Hebrew differs from modern Hebrew in pronunciation of a couple letters, and in certain tense (as in past, present and future) forms, by and large the words are the same. The difference is that new words had to be added because new things have happened since the Bible was written. But this is true in all languages, not just Hebrew.
What I find more commonplace on WNYC are people like Ms. Stienberg, Jews who seem intent on dissociating themselves from a pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli point of view, almost always seeing Israelis as the big bad aggressors and occupiers. I often wonder about my fellow Jews who take that approach...did they have terrible experiences in Hebrew school, or were they bullied by non-Jews for being Jewish and decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Aug. 27 2007 01:56 PM
Dave from Brooklyn

I'm the Dave who called into the show this morning in support of the
Khalil Gibran School and I'd like to make a couple of points.

1. The school, named after a Christian and whose board is made up of
Muslims, Christians and Jews, will absolutely not be a platform for
an Islamist or any religious agenda. Arabic is a language spoken by
many, and not all Arabic speakers are Muslims. Suggesting that the
mere study of a language and the influence of Islam in it's spread
automatically means that a religious agenda will be pursued is like
saying that studying European Classical music will expose us to
Catholic propaganda.

2. The gentleman who called in saying it was an insult to have a non-
Arabic speaking Jewish woman head the school does not, in my
experience, represent a common attitude. When I heard that an
Orthodox woman would serve as interim prinipal I was glad, thinking
that though it was a terrible blow to lose Almontasser, the new
principal's religion might reassure some who oppose the school.

Aug. 27 2007 01:16 PM
Guido from Brooklyn

Julie Bosman in the New York Times gives clear-eyed coverage of the Khalil Gibran school, for those interested in the non-ideological view. Which reads in sharp contrast to Noah Feldman's magazine piece, riddled with disinformation that fits his world view. Shame on the NYT magazine editors...
"How New Arabic School Aroused Old Rivalries"

The Jewish Week looks at Khalil Gibran and the real statements v press releases, and how the NYPost got the flames going in the first place.

Aug. 27 2007 11:54 AM
John from Manhattan

One of the criticisms re: the Iraq invasion was that there was a serious lack of Arabic speakers in the State and Defense Departments, compromising both our intelligence capabilities and our ability to conduct diplomacy on the ground. The only way to address this is to pump up our linguistic abilities. (By the way, Arabic is one of the six official UN languages; Hebrew is not. Nevertheless, the six languages idea would be fine if we only wanted to speak to Latin America and the French. The world is more complicated than that today.)

Re: the non-Arabic speaking principal of the Khalil Gibran school, I don't think I heard anyone ask what would happen if a Hebrew language school was placed under, say, a Syrian principal. The Jewish community would be burning Joel Klein in effigy in City Hall Park within ten minutes!

Aug. 27 2007 11:53 AM
Barbara Res

Expanding on my comments in my phone call, I think it is clear that the mandate to provide an appropriate education to all children should govern our decisions in this matter. Short of that, they only significance of naming a school after an Arabic poet, or a community leader, etc. rests solely in respect for the community. Multiculturalism can only exist if it is pluralistic. Dedicating a school in the neighborhood of a particular cultural group, to teach the children about their own culture defeats it purpose.
All US schools should be founded on the concepts of providing free education which necessarily includes an education in equality and tolerance. You do not accomplish that by stressing any one particular language or culture.

Aug. 27 2007 11:52 AM
Gaines from Knoxville, TN

I gotta say I appreciate Brian's and Skenya's points.

I think limiting dual-language and bi-lingual schools to just the six U.N. languages is a good compromise to the issue.

But, to deny these schools all together would be backwards. As globalization recreates our understanding of not just economics but also of culture, society, country, and language, America cannot continue to see itself as a world leader if it does not recognize that being multilingual as a society will be necessary to continue competition in the global market and power struggle.

Aug. 27 2007 11:50 AM
Howard from Brooklyn

It will take just a moment to look up intifada on Google to how the word has been used by people on every side of the issue. No one Arab or otherwise seems to use the word in any way other than Holy War. This shaking-off definition dosn't seem to be used anywhere. This definition is a LIE. How would you feel if an organization if someone wore a T-Shirt that called for a holy war against you????

Aug. 27 2007 11:49 AM
a from NYC

"Haven't we decided that bi-lingual education is a bad idea?"

We have? I don't remember that!

Aug. 27 2007 11:48 AM
a from NYC

"We can't even get Math and Reading write."


Aug. 27 2007 11:46 AM
john from upper west side

when I was a kid growing up in a diverse working class neighborhood some of my jewish friends who didn't attend PS118 went to shul, and the same for Catholics. My kids went to an Episcipal school for 16 years and were taking two languages in the 6th grade, latin was incouraged. My son and daughter took three languages. I think arabic, chinese, japanese and Korean, should be made availible as electivesin high school. Its time we woke up to a world out there.

Aug. 27 2007 11:44 AM
Cliff from Morningside Heights

If dual-language schools focus on immersion in culture and history related to the language as well as the language itself, can you have a Spanish language school without teaching extensively about the history of Catholicism? I would be fine with that as long as it's academic and not religious in nature. I think the real issue here is trust. The people who object to these schools don't trust them to teach the history and culture in an academic as opposed to religious way. Whether that distrust is based on bigotry or whether it might be justified is the real issue.

Aug. 27 2007 11:41 AM
Ana Stienberg from UES

Typical Brian Lehrer and WNYC always always takes a pro-Israel stance in content and slant.

No matter what the issue if it relates to something remotely unaligned with Israel Brian will mention Jews.

Someone should keep count how many show this radio station does for Jewish related programming. For what 1% of our population? What about blacks and Latinos?

This woman is right on. Hebrew is dead. It is crazy. At least Arabic will be useful.

Aug. 27 2007 11:40 AM
Shalom Saalam

The assembly member from Queens who called into the show is a perfect example of the nonsensical confusion over the Khalil Gibran school -- he has a Chinese language school IN HIS DISTRICT and is still blind to the idea that NYC public schools can and DO teach all different languages in a secular environment. This Arabic language focus school is no different from all the other language schools, and should be supported. The idea that any NYC public school would be religious is crazy beyond belief.

Aug. 27 2007 11:38 AM
Suzie Cattlebroom from Queens

You can also ask Noah Feldman about his pro-Israeli rationale for the invasion of Lebanon by Israel last year. Typical propaganda.

Aug. 27 2007 11:32 AM
Barbara Lifton from Manhattan

I studied Hebrew as a Major Language at Abraham Lincoln High School in 1950. It is a language, not a culture. Any entire plubic school dedicated to teaching Hebrew language and "culture" is a non-sequitor, and is a mask for using the public schools financially to teach a particular Jewish cultural point of view.
If this school teaches Jewish history by using the Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures) as a text book it is teaching religion, and is unconstitutional.
There is a religious, Biblical Jewish history which is non-factual, and a factual, non-secarian Jewish history which belongs in a comprehensive course in world history.
Which will be taught in this disguised parochial school?

Aug. 27 2007 11:30 AM
Bryn Benning from Staten Island

Why should anyone teach Hebrew? It's a dead language. No one uses it except in Israel where everyone speaks English.

What a crock.

Aug. 27 2007 11:27 AM
Mike Drew from Work in Midtown

Please don't pass up the opportunity to ask Professor Feldman about his current view of Iraq. His NYTimes magazine article some weeks ago was remarkable, as is of course his book.

Aug. 27 2007 11:25 AM
Annie Better from Bronx

This comment was removed because it violated our guidelines regarding civility.

Aug. 27 2007 11:25 AM
Myra from Washington Heights

My daughter attended a wonderful dual langauge Spanish-English program on the Upper West Side for elementary school. She was one of two or three Jewish students in the class. Each year the classes celebrated several Caribbean and Mexican festivals, including one called "Asaltos" which is a Puerto Rican Christmas tradition.

If I felt at any time that what my daughter learned involved any sort of religious indoctrination, I would have objected. But I felt that her participation brought her into contact with traditions other than her own. (I should add that my daughter is Chinese by birth.)

When my daughter was younger, I would volunteer to teach her class about Chanukah and Chinese New Year. I think it's great for these types of cross-cultural activities and exchanges to take place - as long as they are respected and encouraged and truly cross-cultural. My impression of the Hebrew-English program in Florida is that the students are Jewish and observant. On the Lower East Side in NYC, a Chinese-English dual-language program is notable for the numbers of students from non-Chinese backgrounds who are warmly welcomed into the fold.

I felt that my daughter's brain was wonderfully "hot wired" for second-language learning as a result of her experience.

Aug. 27 2007 11:21 AM
Skenya from Midtown East...at work :)

My thoughts are as follows: 1) Of course, Arabic as a language can be extricated from Islamic teachings. In fact, most Arab-Americans are Christian, not Muslim, like one of today's callers noted; 2) The furor over the Gibran Academy is much more rooted in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment than in any philosophical disagreement with bilingual education or "secular" interests; 3) To the fellow listener who posted above, Arabic *is* one of the UN's official languages...so your intriguing idea allows for an Arabic language school. Bottom line: either ban ALL bilingual education, or allow ANY bilingual education, using public funds. There should be no picking and choosing based on political or religious biases. Better yet, question the notion of charter schools in the first place!

Aug. 27 2007 11:18 AM
RC from Queens

Actually I should have said society's throat. :-/ My bad English.

Aug. 27 2007 11:17 AM
Tyler Banks from SoHo

Who needs Hebrew?? What a freaking WASTE. Go with the major languages if you must teach them.

It's like teaching the metric system. Two steps forward two steps back. At least Arabic has some use.

Aug. 27 2007 11:17 AM
Chad Harris from NYC

This ABSURD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why is any money being wasted on this?

The illiteracy rates and dropout rates in this country are ridiculous.

We can't even get Math and Reading write.

Language should be elective until this is straightened out! Religion should be taken out at all costs.

Aug. 27 2007 11:15 AM
RC from Queens

As a Hindu American I therefore want a Sanskrit based school and I want the Hindu religion accommodated. This is nonsense.

I have no problems offering Hebrew or Arabic as a language class as part of a language curriculum like spanish french etc, or even letting kids out early for religious instruction, but a dual language school is nuts.

Haven't we decided that bi-lingual education is a bad idea. Why are we always appeasing groups who are the most aggressive in shoving their beliefs down societies throats?

Aug. 27 2007 11:14 AM
Marian from Manhattan

regarding the Hebrew charter school in FL: there are two versions of Hebrew: liturgical ancient Hebrew which has ONLY a religious function, and modern Hebrew spoken in Israel. Which Hebrew does the FL school teach? If it is the former, the religious question is open and shut: it is a religious school

Aug. 27 2007 11:13 AM
sophia from Manhattan

I think both schools are bad ideas.

In the case of the Hebrew school I am suspicious of the fact that they will be teaching not Jewish history but a specific form of militant Zionist "Israel can do no wrong" history.

Aug. 27 2007 11:12 AM
Brian from Manhattan

First, why not limit PUBLICLY-funded, bi-lingual schools to the 6 official languages of the U.N.? This would provide a 'secular' rationale for critics worried about religious overtones.

Aug. 27 2007 11:10 AM
Dee from Queens

I think this whole controvesy over the Arabic school being a potential madrassa is just stupid and full of racism. When you say teaching Arabic will teach Islam you ignore the millions of Arabic Christians from the Middle East. You ignore all the Jewish people from Arabic countries who also speak Arabic. Arabic does not equal Islam as the Arab language was around long before Islam.

Aug. 27 2007 11:10 AM
Brian from Manhattan

The old joke goes (and fits): "you call a person speaking 4 or more languages 'multi-lingual,' 3 'tri-lingual,' 2 'bi-lingual,' and 1 'American'"

Perhaps if there was more bi-lingual public education the U.S. would be a better partner in global issues.

As for WHAT languages--why not keep it secular and limit publicly-funded education to the 6 official languages of the U.N.?

Aug. 27 2007 11:06 AM

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