Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hebrew Language Academy Charter School

NYTimes reports the possible opening of a new language charter school that focuses on Hebrew language. This comes after the controversy surrounding the Arabic language charter school, Khalil Gilbran International Academy.

Nearly two years after a wave of protests over New York City’s first public school dedicated to the Arabic language and culture, state education officials are expected to consider greenlighting a Hebrew-language charter school in Brooklyn this week.

The school would open in the fall if it is approved, first by a committee of the State Board of Regents on Monday and then by the full board on Tuesday. It would begin with 150 kindergartners and first graders and be in District 22, which includes the Sheepshead Bay, Midwood and Mill Basin neighborhoods. The district is 45 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Asian. It also has a substantial population of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Israel.

The State Department of Education staff has recommended that the Regents approve the school, and such recommendations are generally heeded. But at least one regent said he planned to raise questions about the proposal.

These types of schools are actually quite common, but the Arabic and Hebrew ones draw more attention than the others, due to potential religious associations:

Organizers are taking pains to assure state officials that the school, called the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, would not cross the church-state divide. They have hired Dan Gerstein, a communications consultant, to smooth the way politically and to handle public relations. They are also in negotiations with a candidate for principal who is not Jewish but who has experience in dual-language education.

The application states that students will receive daily, hourlong Hebrew lessons, and that Hebrew will be woven into some art, music and gym classes — with children learning the Israeli folk dance Mayim in gym, for example. In addition, the social studies curriculum will include lessons on “Hebrew culture and history in the context of both American and world history,” according to the application.

“The H.L.A. planning team understands fully that no instructor or staff member can in any way encourage or discourage religious devotion in any way on school premises,” the application states. “We also understand that the full study and exploration of any language necessarily includes references to the rich cultural heritage inextricably tied to that language, including elements touching on religion.”

Planners say they envision a student body that reflects the district’s diverse demographics. Though Ms. Berman declined to be interviewed for this article, she said last year, when the application was first submitted, “I hope that we’re very clear that this is not a Jewish school,” adding, “There will be in no way any religious devotion at this school.”


In Brooklyn, the Hellenic Classical Charter School is focused on the “classical study of the Greek and Latin languages, as well as history, art and other cultural studies,” according to its Web site. Throughout the city, there are 81 schools run by the Education Department that offer dual-language programs in Chinese, Russian, Korean and Haitian Creole, for example.

There are some critics who against all of these schools on principle. But others seem to object only to particular ones. They may claim that Hebrew is less practical than Chinese, for example. Others claim the Arabic school is somehow dangerous. Although, those going for the practicality argument should promote Arabic all the more. So many people speak Arabic throughout the world. It is truly a global, international language, and it would be truly advantageous to know. It is a language that cultivated philosophy, mathematics, religious devotion, etc. Yet, if you do not oppose the other language/culture schools (the classical Greek and Latin schools, teh Russian, the Chinese, etc.), then you are on slim ground to oppose these. If you oppose all on principle, I would be interested in hearing more on why. If the schools are open to anyone and everyone, do not violate church/state rules, offer something more interesting, actually integrate all the aspects of learning in a creative way, in ways that traditional schools fail to do, and actually allow students to learn something other than how to take a stupid test, then why not?

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