Somehow today, I stumbled across an article about Florida's first Hebrew Cultural Charter School - the Ben Gamla Charter School. Earlier this year, I commented negatively about a similar program for Arabic culture, the Khalil Gibran International School being opened in NYC.
My argument there was that these type of schools promote cultural segregation - and in this case, I don't disagree. IMVHO, the whole point of a public school system, is to enhance the education by embracing the diversity of the people in its community. Contrary to that point, the purpose of parochial schools - regardless of the religion - is to creative an immersive environment where kids from relatively homogenous (at least religiously) backgrounds can grow and learn to appreciate their religion amongst like-minded individuals. This is one of the primary reasons why we have Catholic Schools, Hebrew Day Schools and Midrasas as opposed to sending our kids to after school religious education programs. Obviously both Ben Gamla and Khalil Gibran are toeing the establishment clause line because the cultures that they teach have unique ties to specific religions, and therefore their student body would be skewed towards practitioners of those religions. But I would be just as much opposed to similar schools that emphasized French, Latin, or Asian cultures. Why - because we are using this as a guise to segregate our children. Truthfully, do you not think that a Spanish cultural school's student body would be heavily skewed towards Hispanic students? It would be tantamount to creating a school only for Hispanic people, which in and of itself defeats the purpose of public schools.
But on the other hand, demographics can do this as well. If public schools serve local communities, and those communities are ethnically homogenous, then the only thing different is the official curriculum. (I say official, because in those circumstances, the teachers will definitely make adaptations towards the local culture and customs).
While Ben Gamla and Khalil Gibran scare me as an American, Ben Gamla makes me happy as Jew. There are many traditional Jews in this world who would gladly send their kids to some sort of Jewish/Hebrew cultural school if it wasn't so cost prohibitive. By establishing Ben Gamla, it now gives those who wouldn't otherwise consider an Orthodox or Community Day School and option to imbue their children with, at the very least, a Hebrew Cultural experience. This in and of itself, will help build a Jewish Identity amongst its students for years to come.
To put the shoe on the other foot, I can see how Khalil Gibran would make New York's Arab community feel about educating their children in a similar environment so that they don't completely lose their Arabic culture.
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