Apparently New York is being New York once again and people are mad.
New York for some reason has a lot of cultural diversity and wants to address this in the public schools. Go figure. The proposal: the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA). One of the few level headed reports can be found at http://www.nysun.com/article/49971?page_no=1. Opponents are saying that this is an attempt to create a training grounds for terrorists.

The school follows what in my school district in Florida is called a Magnet model — that is a specialized curriculum to attract students to that particular program. Magnet schools here are often the best option for education and more children apply to attend each year than the schools can ever admit. The particular attraction of KGIA is focus on Middle East history and the study of Arabic.

According to the New York Sun article, the intention is to have about half of the student population to be native Arabic speakers. Of course, there are those who oppose it. The most reasonable reason to oppose KGIA seems to be that to create the school, the school district will taking an established public school and “converting” it.  However, this is actually a pretty common model for magnet schools.

However, not satisfied to oppose the establishment of the school based on rational reasons, opponents have dreamt up the moniker “madrassa” to scare the public. Given the media representation of madrasah as schools for training terrorists, public officials are placed in the position of having to seem to support terrorists. Of course, the plan for the school shows no signs of being like any madrasah I have ever heard of in the literature or have visited in person (which are legion).

The opposition uses a number of spurious arguments mixed in with legitimate concerns as seen at http://stopthemadrassa.wordpress.com/. Concerns like

· Has anyone seen the lesson plans?
· Is the Principal certified according to specific N.Y. State qualifications? · WHEN will our questions regarding faculty and curricula be addressed?
· Has anyone who reads Arabic seen the textbooks that will be used?
· Will KGIA meet the N.Y. State guidelines for a NYC Public school?

These get mixed in with spurious statements like:

  • What will be the reaction to someone eating a pork or ham sandwich if they are in proximity of one of KGIA’s students?
  • What will happen if someone says “Osama” within earshot of a KGIA student? Are KGIA and the NYC Department of Education prepared to defend themselves against such lawsuits from CAIR and deal with the resultant bad publicity?

and with basically irrelevant questions like:

· Will certified teachers who are Coptic Christian Arabs, Sephardic Jews, and Christian Arabs be recruited? Or just Muslims
· Which Arabic history of the
Middle East will be taught? The Islamic? The Christian? The Jewish?
· Who will teach American and European History, Math, English?
· How will the prayer requests of KGIA’s Muslim students be accommodated in a public school? · Will Halal food be served in the cafeteria?
· Will KGIA’s students be part of the general school population or sequestered and separated?
· Will there be concessions made to accommodate the “modesty” requirements of Muslim students? · How will wudu, or the process of ritual washing – which must precede prayer – take place? In the public lavatories?

And so knee jerk fear of Arabs and Muslims has lead to a fear mongering campaign that has caught the attention of Daniel Pipes and other usual suspects including Sean Hannity. Don’t get me wrong — the legitimate questions should be answered. Scrutiny is called for, to the same extent as any school. But to label this Arabic-language school a madrasah and trade on false perceptions about madrasah is the worst bit of fear and hate mongering.

Ron Lukens-Bull