Friday, August 24, 2007

Tax Dollar Semites

So in honor of my first day of unemployment I have decided to blog! woot! woot!

This morning, while going out for my first bagel and iced soy chai latte of freedom I happened to buy a NY Times. When was the last time I actually read a real paper (e.g., not am NY)? So while sipping my latte and enjoying a p-funk, I noticed this article on the front page. It was obviously a not so subtle hint from the power(s) that be that I have been neglecting my blogosphere responsibilities.

In Broward County Florida, (Ft. Lauderdale area, incidentally about 45 minutes from my parents) an Orthodox Rabbi and his cohorts have started what he claims to be the first English/Hebrew charter school, i.e., free, tax dollar payed for, public school that teaches classes in both English and Hebrew. They are being seriously watched for any mention of religion, which, as anyone who knows a bit of Hebrew may be aware of, is quite hard. Hebrew is littered with sayings that have a literal religious connotation but in everyday speech is used quite secularly. So anyway, evidently while Miami is referred to as "Little Havana," parts of South Florida could also be called "Little Jerusalem." (oops.. wasn't that Vilna back in the day?)

I guess my problem here is that I don't really have too strong of an opinion. And that bothers me. If we were discussing a right wing, bible belt public school that teaches creationism, I would be up in arms. But I think my heeb status is once again making me instinctively side with the Jews. Probably why it took me until Sophomore year in college to have a real opinion on Israel/Palestine (but I'll save that for another day, shall i?)

They say they are trying really hard to teach Hebrew as a language for students whose parents often primarily speak Hebrew. There are TONS (and I mean tons) of charter schools across the country that are dually Spanish and English and I think they are a great idea. They are found most commonly in South Florida, Texas and California and my cousin (heeb like me) is in one. His parents think its important for him to learn a language young. There are tons of studies that show that students who learn dual languages (or more) as a small child will be benefited intellectually etc.

But, I am pretty glad that officials are at least giving them a hard time to ensure the complete lack of religious content. I mean, look at the controversy in NY over the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a charter school in Brooklyn that plans to teach a dual Arabic/English curriculum. The crazies over at the Sun (I had to deal with those reporters in college over numerous political skirmishes, and I feel 100% justified in calling them crazies... or at least always ideologically driven, which is, in my opinion, an awful way to run a newspaper) have painted it as a terrorist training school. Which is ridiculous.

So here is what I make of this- Dual language schools are wonderful (and I wish I had gone to one) and I hope this school survives... if it is just that, a language school. So proceed with caution, and be damn sure to let in any child who wishes to attend. Why does my gut instinct tell me that they sneaking in a few brachas :)

On a last note - in mid/high school my language options were French, Spanish, Italian or German. In this world, besides Spanish, I'd say the next most useful would be Arabic. Can we separate language, religion, culture and politics?


The Autodidact said...

Zie, I'm gonna take your last point first and say that I think our children should be given the choices of Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic in school. As anyone in the military will attest, learning a language has nothing to do with taking a particular political side.

Now onto Ben Gamla, the Hebrew Charter school in FL. I actually have to disagree with your approval here. I think language schools are great. I think teaching multiple languages in public schools is great. I am strongly against charter schools however, as I am against school vouchers. Public money supports public education and while that can take many different forms, the charter school phenomenon gets all of the public benefit without any of the public responsibility. How much can we really oversee these schools to make certain they are within the bounds of the charter? And to the extent that the oversight is possible, is that really how we want to be spending public money? I don't want our government funding our particular religious endeavors, as I don't want our government controlling our particular religious endeavors. These schools are a wonderful idea, except that they should be private and charging 40k tuition like everyone else.

The Pedant said...

I'm going to focus on your point regarding the New York Sun and Khalil Gibran Academy.

1) I used to work for a conservative newspaper in college (I also hung out with the Federalist Society). Yes, some of those people are very ideologically driven, but they are also otherwise regular human beings.

2) As for having an opinion in newsgathering, it hasn't hurt the United Kingdom. I don't know a single paper there which claims the mantle of complete objectivity (Times, Telegraph, and Sun - Right; Guardian - Left) and the news from the quality ones remains quality.

3) As for Gibran Academy, the problem is simply that a large portion of the taxpayers of New York are adamantly opposed to a particular view of the Israeli/Palestinian (not to mention Israel/Any Other Country or Organization With Which No Formal Peace Agreement Has Been Reached) conflict and would not like that view taught, even in a school of the language of the people who tend to hold that particular view.

Depending on how you see democracy, the purpose of schooling, and the rights of the taxpayer, this is either a super-legitimate view (democracy beats academic values) or horrible (vice versa).

Miss S said...

I think it is a great thing. And considering they are not even using "Brachim ha'Baim," which means welcome, I would say they are being pretty darn careful. Hebrew is just another language. It isn't teaching the Jewish religion! I think it is great that they are being careful, but I they shouldn't have to be this careful. After all, no one bans "Bless you" or its Spanish equivalent. I also have sang Christmas songs and learned about the Mexican or Spanish Catholic holidays. I am all for the seperation of church and state, I just wish people knew how to do it right.
Miss S

orieyenta said...

From what I hear down here in Miami, Ben Gamla is being overly-scrutinized. As you mentioned, there are tons of dual language charter schools here and they aren't being watched nearly as close as Ben Gamla is. Afterall, I highly doubt they are going over this week's parsha there. You're right, with Hebrew being filled with words that have literal religious connotations, this will be a hard battle. But even in English in the schools, don't some of the English words have religious connotations? I'll side with those who say that what Ben Gamla is doing something wrong when they decide to also stop the use of words in the English speaking classrooms like Easter and Christmas.

starchild said...

what p-funk were you listening to?

Zie said...

1. no learning a language shouldnt have anything to do with politics. but it does to people who confuse culture with politics.

2. duh. Chinese. sorry

3. Yes, I'm sure the employees at the Sun are human beings. Doesn't mean that some are them aren't crazy. Anyway, not the subject of my post. Sorry if I offended your conservative sensibilities. Everyone deserves the chance to put out their own opinion. However, painting opinion as truth is highly suspect. Eh but objective truth is a topic for another day

4. You know.. I do not know he ins and outs of charter schools or how they are funded. I do know that I have family members in charter schools that serve their individual needs quite nicely, while they would not get the same attention elsewhere. Not every student is the same. Yes, we need more money for schools and teachers, etc. Yes we need improved schools for people of color. We also need to realize that not ever student, or every family is the same. Anyway, it sounds like Ben Gamla is being scrutinized and being held to a reasonable level of public responsibility. Good enough for me.

5. Pendant, have you read grammar school history textbooks? Do you know how much is politically motivated? How much is omitted. (e.g. Native Americans? Labor Movement?). I want you to tell me one school that does not teach a pro-Israel point of view. I grew up in a "secular" public school and we definitely learned a bit about Israel without hearing the word "Palestine" or "Palestinian." If you really want to be fair, shouldn't folks hear both sides? Can you really say there is a history that isn't biased.

Liberal Jew said...

So here is what I think: Ben Gamla is getting a hard time because a majority of Jews in this country don't like the idea of Charter Schools and these same Jews are the first to cry at hypocrisies.

That is what I got. Peace!

The Pedant said...

I am not saying that history isn't biased. I am saying that the concept of teaching an objective history to a group of people who want it to be biased places a conflict between democracy and the academic value of truth.