hebrew charter school? not for my child

Did you see this article in the NYTimes last week about the racially diverse Charter School in New York City that has an enrollment of almost 1/3 black children? Where Muslim and Christian children learn not just a love of another language, but a love of another country and another culture? Sounds like a great idea, right?

If only public money wasn’t being spent. If only the curriculum didn’t focus on a religious group. And if only the other country wasn’t Israel.

First, I don’t think public money should be used to finance a quasi-religious institution. The school’s site says it’s social studies curriculum “emphasizes the study of world Jewish communities and Israel.” Is Judaism a religion or a culture? Is Israel a purely democratic state or a religious state? There are no clear answers, and for that reason, the division between church and state should prevail. The article references learning “the pride” of Israel. What does that mean? If the pride of Israel has anything to do with the pride of Judaism, and if Judaism is a religion, then the line has most definitely been crossed. (I also disagree with the pledge of allegiance having “God” in it, BTW.) I would not support a Hebrew school masquarading as a school to learn the original language of the Bible, either Testament. I, even as a Jesus-loving Christian, don’t support ANY public money being spent on ANY religion.

Second, I know I’m going to be accused of being anti-Semitic for saying I wouldn’t send MY child to this school. And I know that had I substituted any other country above, it would sound wrong, most likely even to me. What if I’d said I wouldn’t send my child to a school that celebrated French culture, or Jamaican culture? It would be wrong to single out those countries, those cultures, as if something was wrong with them per se, just because.

But I do think Israel is a special case (although not the only special case), and I don’t think cloaking the school behind the guise of teaching a language makes me more comfortable. I don’t support anything short of a two-state solution, and as long as we aren’t there, I cannot understand supporting the creation of one state without the creation of the other. The recent and not-so-recent human right violations by Israel against the Palestinian people is something I cannot support. Our country’s way of only hand-slapping Israel for physically subjugating another people while we ass-kick (and threaten to do so to) other nations for similar offenses is similarly something I do not support. That being said, I wouldn’t support a China school, an Iran school, a North Korea school, or a Sudan school.

And together, I cannot understand putting public money toward teaching our (black) children to accept or support it. I understand that this might be the “best” education a child can receive. Many parents are excited that their child will be learning a second language. Many parents believe that going to school with Jewish kids will benefit their children because its a community in which “there’s no foolishness when it comes to education.” (I don’t have the space to debate this last assertion, but whatever, elite colleges do have high Jewish enrollments.)

But I hope the day will come that we being to realize that getting an education is also about being a citizen, a responsible person in the world, not just scoring high on the SAT.