Conservative media outlets like the New York Post have led the charge against a controversial Arabic-themed public school planned for Brooklyn, the Khalil Gibran International Academy. But, Richard Kahlenberg argues in a compelling New York Times Op-Ed, there’s reason for liberals to be wary as well:
The late Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, once famously said that the rationale for public schools was to teach children what it means to be an American.
At their core, in free democratic societies, schools are meant to develop children who will grow up with critical minds to be productive employees and tolerant, independent-thinking citizens. But in America, given our diversity, Shanker believed that public schools should provide a common education to children from all backgrounds that teaches not only skills but also American history, culture and democracy. Public schools, to him, were critical in this process of Americanization.
Keeping Shanker’s point in mind, there are principled reasons to be concerned about the Gibran school that are not simply bigoted. Jonathan Zimmerman, who teaches history and education at New York University, has likened opposition to the school with anti-German hysteria during World War I, when state legislatures passed measures barring or restricting German language classes. But there is a significant difference between teaching Arabic in a public school — something all Americans should support — and creating a school dedicated primarily to the study of Arabic language, history and culture.
The liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz is urging American Jews to reconsider one of the cornerstones of our community’s liberalism: opposition to government funding for religious schools. In an editorial on the importance of Jewish education for maintaining Jewish identity, citing in particular the effectiveness of day schools, Ha’aretz writes:
If Jewish community leaders in the United States are genuine in their desire to slow the processes weakening their community, they would do well to reexamine their entrenched opposition to state or federal support for religious education, including Jewish education. They fear that such support, even in the form of tax rebates, would violate the absolute separation of church and state, which could in the long term harm the Jews above all. But it would appear that the proven danger of assimilation must take precedence over fears of potential dangers, particularly after the experience of other Jewish communities that receive funding from the countries they live in without being hurt as a result.
This recommendation, in addition to being surprising, is problematic on two fronts.