Curiously, two public schools dedicated separately to Hebrew and Arab language and culture, in Florida and New York respectively, have simultaneously made news . Our journalist friend, Doug Chandler, co-authored this story on the Arab school controversy. The following quote from a NY Times article bothered me because the concern expressed is factually flawed:
Opponents say that it is impossible to teach Hebrew — and aspects of Jewish culture — outside a religious context, and that Ben Gamla, billed as the nation’s first Hebrew-English charter school, violates one of its paramount legal and political boundaries.
One can indeed teach Hebrew, or any language, outside of a religious context. It’s also true that because its emphasis is on language, this school cannot be replicated by Christian groups. But I wonder if public schools should be in the business of imparting ethnic culture – which is also why I question the Arab school in New York. But teaching the Hebrew and Arabic languages (as well as social studies classes that cover Middle Eastern cultures) are proper course offerings for youngsters in public schools.
Critics on the school board in South Florida disregard the extent to which public schools in much if not most of America are infused with Christian religious themes. The very idea of Christmas parties and overtly religious Christmas carols – something I remember very clearly from my school days, even when the schools I attended had mostly Jewish students – stamp the public schools with the sense of a majority Christian identity. I think that this is a more serious issue, because it’s so prevalent, than are worries over a Jewish or an Arab curriculum here or there.
I attended a public elementary school in Madison, WI that was almost exclusively Christian. The Jews all lived on the other side of the city and the few Muslims probably lived around the university. When I was in 5th or 6th grade the student teacher we had was Jewish and she gave us a class on Hannukah–so it works both ways. Jewish kids should learn about the majority culture. Although it would be nice if more Christians were aware of the pagan origins of Christmas.