Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 25, 2007

A Muslim Magnet School?

Two weeks ago the New York City Board of Education announced that it would be establishing a new magnet high school to teach Arabic culture and language. A week later, the BOE revealed plans to place the school within an existing elementary school; the resulting hue and cry from concerned parents put an end to that. But the city is set to go ahead with the project as soon as it finds a physical space.

One goal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (for such is the school’s name) is to recruit enough native Arabic speakers to comprise 50 percent of the student body. It seems perverse to take immigrant students, who most need immersion in the language, culture, and values of the United States, and teach them more about the culture from which they came. As leading education historian Diane Ravitch told the New York Sun, “It is not the job of public schools to teach each ethnic group about its history.”

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Two weeks ago the New York City Board of Education announced that it would be establishing a new magnet high school to teach Arabic culture and language. A week later, the BOE revealed plans to place the school within an existing elementary school; the resulting hue and cry from concerned parents put an end to that. But the city is set to go ahead with the project as soon as it finds a physical space.

One goal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (for such is the school’s name) is to recruit enough native Arabic speakers to comprise 50 percent of the student body. It seems perverse to take immigrant students, who most need immersion in the language, culture, and values of the United States, and teach them more about the culture from which they came. As leading education historian Diane Ravitch told the New York Sun, “It is not the job of public schools to teach each ethnic group about its history.”

There is no intrinsic reason that Arabic language and culture should not be taught in city schools, as long as the curriculum can be kept free of political or ideological bias. But there is very little reason to believe that politics and ideology can be kept out of Middle Eastern studies, especially in an educational establishment in love with the ideology of multiculturalism, an establishment to which American cultural unity is a myth. And especially when one looks at the lineup of organizations responsible for the school’s design: the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Salaam Club of New York, and the Arab American Family Support Center of Brooklyn, all committed advocates for their own culture. The leading candidate for principal is a former teacher named Debbie Almontaser, an emigrant from Yemen, who routinely wears a hijab.

As much as supporters claim that there is no politics involved, that has rarely been the case when American curricula have dealt with Middle Eastern or Islamic matters. As the Family Security Foundation recently documented, the educrats tasked with creating these curricula have frequently inserted biased and partisan explanations of the region’s conflicts, out-and-out anti-Semitic slurs, and an uncritical portrayal of Islam into textbooks and approved curricula. (As a practical matter, the people most involved in writing these textbooks, as well as in reviewing them for state Boards of Education, are quite often advocates themselves of militant versions of Islam.)

While this essay cites numerous examples of Islam encroaching on education in the U.S., its assessment of how far this phenomenon has progressed in England (which has no equivalent of a constitutional Establishment Clause, and which has a number of state-subsidized Islamic schools) is truly chilling. Adrian Morgan, the author, points out that many such schools have graduated young men who have had short, inglorious careers as Islamic terrorists, at home and abroad. That fact alone should be a testament to the difficulty of proper oversight in these matters, and it should give the New York City Board of Education pause. The way to prevent the spread of Islamism in the U.S. isn’t to segregate Muslim children socially, but to encourage them to enter the broader cultural conversation that makes up American life. Whatever benefits the Khalil Gibran International Academy may provide, it will leave its students severely deficient in that respect.

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