Nathaniel Popper: Do culture-themed public schools cross a legal line?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy opened four years ago in suburban Minneapolis, the school was a bold experiment and its survival was in question. There was the scramble to attract students that any charter school faces, but Tarek ibn Ziyad had the additional worry of a constitutional challenge, given the school's sponsorship by a nonprofit called Islamic Relief and the curriculum's emphasis on Muslim culture and the Arabic language.

The school has not only survived but thrived, and there are plans for local expansion. Perhaps the surest sign that the experiment worked came last week, when a new charter school opened up thousands of miles away in Hollywood, Fla.--founded by Jewish parents, Ben Gamla Charter School has kosher food in the cafeteria and Hebrew posters in the classrooms. In the planning of the Florida school, Tarek ibn Ziyad's experience was taken into account.

The success of Tarek ibn Ziyad's model, and its adoption outside of Minnesota, heralds a potentially explosive new trend in America's charter schools: publicly funded schools tied to a particular religion. The founders of Ben Gamla are already promising more branches in other states, and parents from other religions are sure to venture into similar territory, pushing the constitutional limits even further. As Peter Deutsch, the Orthodox Jewish congressman who started Ben Gamla, has said, it "could be a huge paradigm shift in education in America."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchEducationReligion & Culture

Posted August 31, 2007 at 12:02 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. The_Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Why isn’t the ACLU screaming bloody murder? If the state were supporting a Christian charter school to promote Christian language and culture, you better believe they would be.

August 31, 12:16 pm | [comment link]
2. drjoan wrote:

What “Christian language and culture” would a Christian charter school promote?

August 31, 12:27 pm | [comment link]
3. William P. Sulik wrote:

I’m surprised there was no mention of the Kiras Joel case.  In that, the Supremes struck down just such a “cultural school.”  In fact, Scalia made the same appeal to distinct cultural aspects in his dissent. 

If you are interested in this, I recommend reading the Court’s opinion, and especially Scalia’s dissent here:

Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District, Petitioner v. Louis Grumet, et al. 512 U.S. 687; 114 S. Ct. 2481; 129 L. Ed. 2d 546 (1994).

August 31, 12:30 pm | [comment link]
4. Br. Michael wrote:

Well the sure fire way to stop this IS to set up a Christian school.  If you need a language we can do Greek and Hebrew.

August 31, 12:33 pm | [comment link]
5. physician without health wrote:

They are trying to teach Jewish and Islamic culture without mentioning God?  This is really silly.  I would in fact not want a school to try to teach Christianity without God; we have too much of this already.  Instead of this Charter School nonsense, the money should go to increasing the presence of foreign language in the public school curriculum, starting in Kindergarten.  If European children can grow up speaking a number of languages, so can American kids.

August 31, 1:45 pm | [comment link]
6. Andrew717 wrote:

In the article they mention a Greek culture school whish shares a building with a Greek Orthodox church school

August 31, 1:45 pm | [comment link]
7. Nikolaus wrote:

Religious content is certainly a very significant issue.  However, I think the larger issue is ‘ghetto-ization.’  I think the melting pot is gone.  We are fast becoming a nation of special interests.

August 31, 3:21 pm | [comment link]
8. West Coast Cleric wrote:

Interesting to note that Muslims proselytize in Uganda (and probably other countries as well) by building schools and inviting all to send their children for little or no cost—provided they are Muslim.  What? Oh, of course you can convert!

August 31, 4:27 pm | [comment link]
9. Br. Michael wrote:

Only, in the West we are nuts.  All schools teach worldviews.  US secular schools do to, only we pretend that they don’t.

August 31, 5:46 pm | [comment link]
10. Kevin Montgomery wrote:

Ok, just a comment on the Arabic-culture school. 
It’s not an Islamic school. It’s a school that teaches the Arabic language and Arab culture.  Remember, most people of Arab descent in this country are not Muslims.  Most of them of indeed Christians. In addition, NYC (and other major cities in the country) have a variety of public charter schools focusing on a particular language and culture.  E.g., San Francisco has a public school that teaches Chinese language and culture.  If you’re going to get rid of this Arabic school, you’ll have to get rid of all of those like it.  (That’s certainly a valid position, but it’s a totally different question.)

August 31, 6:19 pm | [comment link]
11. CharlesB wrote:

Andrew, good point.  With the internet, podcasts, Tivo, etc., we tend to watch, read and hear only that which we choose.  This BLOG is a good example.  We are all being slowly polarized into our special interests.  We, for example, never watch broadcast television, except some news and sports.  The shows are disgusting in content and language.

September 1, 1:46 am | [comment link]
12. libraryjim wrote:

Catholic Schools come to mind. Baptist, too (remember the Bob Jones University fiasco a number of years back?).

September 1, 12:27 pm | [comment link]
13. Harvey wrote:

#1 I agree with you whole heartedly.  Nuff said!!

September 1, 7:48 pm | [comment link]
14. drjoan wrote:

Library Jim-
But Catholic and Baptist schools are not PUBLIC schools.
And a private religious university (Bob Jones) taking students who have student loans is TOTALLY different from a K-12 public school where the students are not individually given the money for their tuition (although that is an issue I would LOVE to see discussed: don’t parents have any say in where their child can be taught?  why force them to send their child to a secular public school when, given that the government could simply allocate public money to each family and let the parents send each child where they wish.)

September 3, 1:54 am | [comment link]
15. libraryjim wrote:


EXACTLY! They are NOT public schools. 

And there is a big discussion over alloactaion of monies, eg, vouchers, in Florida.

Guess who OPPOSES these? The ACLU, who argues that public funds should NOT go to private or religious (read ‘Christian’) schools, and the NEA, who argues that TAX money taken away from public schools will only weaken the public school system which (they claim) is already hurting for funds. Yet not a peep from either group on the Islamic school disguised as a public school, funded with public tax dollars.

As far as the ACLU and the NEA are concerned: No parental rights over school choice where money is involved. The big issue is mandatory public school education, if you chose to leave the Public system, you are on your own.  And besides financing private/religious schools, there are still more than a few states that make homeschooling incredibly difficult to pursue.

September 3, 1:40 pm | [comment link]
16. libraryjim wrote:

I was ‘chatting’ with a friend, and he came up with this:

Look on the bright side. The humanists are intent on doing to Arab kids what they did to American kids. Score one for the Christians who home or private school. Better to have the Mohammedans receive the humanist indoctrination than the Islamic one in a private school.

clever, eh?

September 5, 12:11 pm | [comment link]
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