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Lessons from Kahlil Gibran
May 7th, 2007

There are many lesson to be drawn from last weeks decision by the Department of Education to abandon its plans to locate a new small school in PS 282 in Park Slope.

If youre an optimist, you could be cheered that the Department of Education paid attention to the parents at 282 concerned that sharing their space with the new school would create overcrowding.

Or you could see the school systems decision as a victory for bigotry. The small school was not just any school but the new Kahlil Gibran Academy, a school that, along with the regular city curriculum, would offer Arabic and culture. Arabic was the only word some people in the city needed to hear.

Creating such a school and catering to the strident demands from Muslim immigrants has allowed the latter to indulge some of their worst customs, including wife-beating, depriving women of full civil liberties, and genital mutilation of their daughters. Lorna Salzman wrote in a letter to the Brooklyn Paper. (Salzman did not say whether bilingual Chinese or Spanish schools posed a similar threat to life as we know it.)

A public school dedicated to Arabic language and culture in Brooklyn, marveled Right Truth. The state of public education in America has never been worse and the Department of Education thinks this is a proper use of taxpayer money? (Unlike the school for sports management or fire safety both of which already exist thanks to taxpayer money.)

Simply learning Arabic can be dangerous, opined Daniel Pipes who knows Arabic. Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage, he wrote in the Sun. Learning Arabic in of itself promotes an Islamic outlook (Pipes did not explain how he managed to avoid this taint.)

Keeping up the drumbeat in the Sun, Alicia Colon went even further: How delighted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda must have been to hear the news that New York City, the site of the worst terrorist attack in our history, is bowing down in homage to accommodate and perhaps groom future radicals.

Some rushed to defend the school, which was being established under the auspices of New Visions, which has played a key role in the citys small school movement. In his blog
Old First, Daniel Meeter, the reverend at Old First Reformed Church, said he had agreed to serve on the schools board, as had a local rabbi. Meeter said the reaction to the school and the invective heaped on principal Debbie Almontaser, caught him by surprise, I didn’t expect the New York Sun to oppose it by means of slander. I won’t honor the articles by repeating them, but I will say that they were slanderous. And hurtful to my friend, Debbie Almontaser, and insulting to her faith (Almontaser has written for Gotham Gazette, and we know many people in common most of whom have high regard for her.)

Some allied with the PS 282 parents decried the fact that the crowding issue became caught up in an apparently acceptable (in some circles) post 9/11 bigotry. Writing in the Brooklyn Paper, Councilmember David Yassky said it was entirely appropriate for PS 282 parents to express their concerns. But, he continued, suggestion that religion or ethnicity is at issue in the PS 282 disagreement gives credence to a reprehensible bigotry that, regrettably, does exist.

So what is the Department of Education going to do next. It says it will try to find a new location but would not say where that might be and some questioned whether it would be in time for the new school year in September. Interestingly Schools Chancellor Joel Klein did not offer the school a home in Tweed Courthouse, as he did for a charter school caught up in a similar conflict over space (but not the Middle East) last year.

So whats the lesson? The Quick and the Ed came up with one: People who support choice and diversity in delivery of publicly-funded education need to come to terms with the reality that real choice includes some schools that not everyone will like.

By on May 7, 2007, 4:35 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Education,Gotham City | 6 Comments »

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6 Responses to “Lessons from Kahlil Gibran”

  1. Rocky Says:
    May 8th, 2007 at 7:36 am

    “I didnt expect the New York Sun to oppose it by means of slander.”

    That’s funny — I didn’t think the Klan would oppose integration by means of cross burnings!

  2. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » What They’re Saying Says:
    May 9th, 2007 at 7:54 am

    [...] Gotham City, Education, Civil Rights, Finance, Transportation Recent Posts What They’re Saying Farewell to Kalikow Lessons from Kahlil Gibran What They’re SayingToday [...]

  3. leftofrightwing Says:
    May 9th, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Once again, the enemy of tolerance rears its ugly head. Blind bigotry, piggy-backing on the well-to-do’s status quo, stifling yet another opportunity for average Americans to get to know Arabic culture and, yes, maybe Muslim culture (Lord save us).

    But as we all know; all Arabs are Muslim and all Muslims are radicals, so we can’t have that. Thanks to all those who tried.

  4. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Kahlil Gibran (Continued) Says:
    May 20th, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    [...] The outpouring of vitriol that greeted plans for the Kahlil Gibran Academy, a public school focusing on Arabic language, culture and history did not surprise its founding principal, Debbie Almontaser. But, writing in the News, she describes fears that the schools will be some kind of Islamist training ground unfounded and unfair. Instead, Almontaser writes, the school, set to open next fall, will offer a Regents-based curriculum enhanced by intensive instruction in Arabic and the study of Middle Eastern history and culture. In doing so, she believes, the school can strengthen and unify the city.Students will graduate emulating Khalil Gibran’s quote, ‘The universe is my country and the human family is my tribe.’” [...]

  5. Jerry Krase Says:
    May 24th, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Kahlil Gibran International Academy: A School for All Seasons by Jerry Krase

    Safeguarding the rights of others is the most noble and beautiful end of a human being. -Kahlil Gibran

    Some few months ago the New York City Department of Education, ever so carelessly, announced the birth of dozens of schools, however it seems at least one was a bit premature. The DOE seems to think that simply naming things and announcing things improves the poor state of public education in the city today. Some of the newbies had wonderful names such as The School of the Future which reminds me and my friend Michael of Ralph Kramden in the Honeymooners Chef of the Future skit when Ralph froze trying to core a apple during a live TV commercial – but then again perhaps Im showing my age. Many of the other names indicated a welcome educational sensitively and focus on culture and language.

    One of 40 new schools announced was the dual-language (Arabic and English) Khalil Gibran International Academy that was created not only in recognition of the growing number of Arab American children in New York City’s schools, but the need to understand the Arabic language and culture. (Especially given our convoluted foreign policy tied to our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.) The Gibran Academy takes it name from the Lebanese-born poet and philosopher who wrote “The Prophet.” It was created in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates-funded nonprofit agency New Visions for Public Schools and the Arab-American Family Support Center which provides social services in Brooklyn. The misnomered Arab American School is open to students of all ethnic backgrounds. As an educational innovation the announcement should have been applauded but it almost immediately it became controversial. Even some normally liberal parents protested the placement of Gibran students in their schools, while as usual some abnormally conservative columnists simply wrote ignorant, bigoted, and hateful commentary such as referring to the Academy as a madrassa and shamelessly inventing quasi-Protocols of Islam agendas.

    The new principal of the new school to be is Debbie Almontaser, a respected educator and interfaith activist who arrived in the US from Yemen at the age 3. I know her personally from a Voice of America program we participated in about inter ethnic relations and from research I have been doing about and for the Arab American community of New York City. Her school was to start slowly with about 80 sixth-graders in the first year and increase to something like a total of 600 students in grades 6 through 12. It will have a standard college preparatory curriculum that would include the history and contributions of the Arab people, as well as Arabic language instruction. It had been reported in The New York Times, however that due to the protest, and perhaps the rabid publicity, that NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein had considered postponing the opening for a year. The most recent information is that the academy has found a temporary home in a Brooklyn school where parents and administrators were more level-headed.

    If we think about the seeds of the Japanese-American internment as being planted by reaction to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor we can recognize the dangerous analogy of 9/11 terrorism. As did Japanese Americans, have Arab Americans become potential enemies in our midst? The angry reaction to a small school by too many people who should know better ominously makes the grade B movies about rounding up Arabs on the streets of Brooklyn seem less fictional. Rudy Giuliani aside, I dont want to believe that 9/11 has made New Yorkers as intolerant as perhaps they have become. I have been writing and lecturing for decades about achieving Community in a Multicultural Society and arguing that, despite all its historical flaws, the US and especially Gotham has been, until now, a good model for others to follow. Lets not start moving backward.

    Although it is obvious that I have plenty of choice, and not so choice words, of my own concerning how ineptly this school was announced to the community and subsequently how horrible was the press coverage, I went on line to gather a few more thoughtful ones from the person for whom this school is named.

    I believe in you, and I believe in your destiny.
    I believe that you are contributors to this new civilization.
    I believe that you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient dream, a song, a prophecy, which you can proudly lay as a gift of gratitude upon the lap of America.
    I believe that you can say to the Founders of this great nation, “Here I am, a youth, a young tree, whose roots were plucked from the hills of Lebanon, yet am I deeply rooted here, and I will be fruitful. – Kahlil Gibran

  6. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » McCarythism in Brooklyn? Says:
    October 26th, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    [...] Schools to establish a small public school devoted to Arab language and culture. The school sparked opposition, much of it directed at Almontaser, a Yemeni-born educator, who has promoted religious and ethnic [...]

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