The Khalil Gibran International Academy is not the only taxpayer-funded Arabic-language school in the United States and not the only such school with Arabist or Islamist proclivities that need to be watched. This weblog entry will explore those other cases, arranged in rough geographical order, from east to west, north to south.
(This topic, incidentally, is quite apart from the private Islamic schools in the United States, which have problems of their own, and which I have covered in several articles, such as "A Madrassah in Bridgeview, Illinois," "What Are Islamic Schools Teaching?" and "Troubles at Islamic Schools in North America." It is also distinct from the matter of regular public schools being under the control of Islamists, as appears to be the case at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan, where the student body is 95 percent Arab. Finally, this is totally apart from the phenomenon on the U.S. military building madrassas and mosques in places like Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bulgaria, and Iraq.)
Charlestown High School, Massachusetts
Charlestown High School, Charlestown, Massachusetts.
On July 7, the students visited the Islamic Society of Boston, a mosque in Cambridge's Central Square, where they sat in a circle on the carpet and learned about Islam from two mosque members. Peberlyn Moreta, 16, said she imagined that the women would be veiled head to toe, and was surprised to see only their heads covered. "I was afraid," said Moreta, a junior at Charlestown High. "I didn't want to offend anyone by the way I was dressed or by my cross."
Moreta, a Catholic who tucked her gold cross under her T-shirt, felt comfortable asking the mosque members why they fast and why women cover their hair. She also asked them to demonstrate a prayer, and they obliged for several minutes, standing and bending and kneeling while reciting parts of a prayer in Arabic, then translating it into English. "It took the fear out of the whole stereotype I had in my mind from the things I see on the news," Moreta said. "It's been a real awakening."
And the anti-Israel component of the curriculum also turns up, right on schedule, via the film Divine Intervention, which one critic, Jordan Hiller, finds contains "pure hatred" toward Israel:
Across the hall, another group of students watched the film Divine Intervention, a 2003 comic tragedy about love on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli border. They giggled at the repeated scenes of a Palestinian woman holding hands with her lover. But the students quickly turned somber when their teacher, Lama Jarudi, delved into why some people martyr themselves in suicide bombings.
Jan paraphrases Jarudi, who lived in Lebanon until the age of nine, explaining that "she has received mixed feedback from family and friends about teaching Arabic" to Americans: "They fear that I'm helping Americans train more spies. I feel quite the opposite. Anyone who learns the Arabic language inherently has to understand the culture a little bit." (July 15, 2007)
Stuyvesant High School, New York City
The process of bringing Arabic to Stuyvesant High School, a public school, was from the start inextricably tied up with the promotion of Islam, as Sara G. Levin described in September 2005:
Three years after Muslim Student Association began raising money and support, introductory Arabic will be an elective there starting this fall. Students were motivated by a combination of academic curiosity, cultural awareness and religious pride.
Growing up in a religious family, Batool Ali, co-leader of the Stuyvesant M.S.A., had learned to read Arabic from the time she could interpret the prayers, but she has never spoken the language. When she left Al-Iman, a Muslim school in Queens, to attend prestigious Stuyvesant in Lower Manhattan three years ago, she carried Islam with her.
Ali joined M.S.A., where other students, some with religious upbringings and some without, met to discuss interpretations of the Koran. But like her, few of the students, many of whom were from the Asian subcontinent, could speak Arabic and even fewer could read it.
"Stuy already offered about 10 different languages and we said, 'Why isn't Arabic on the list?'" said Shams Billah, one of last year's M.S.A. leaders. "It's one of the top five languages spoken in the world." … So Billah joined then-M.S.A. leaders like Naazia Husain and began raising money for an elementary Arabic class. Three years and $20,000 later, the class is finally taking off this semester. …
Stuyvesant High School, New York City.
"For Muslims, you have to read the Koran and knowing Arabic adds a more personal aspect," said M.S.A. co-president Ali. By organizing events like the annual Islam forum and fast-a-thon, one of the association's goals is to promote understanding of the religion. Ali added that other students at Stuyvesant are curious about Arabic because language is a way of learning about another culture. …
But raising money from the ground up was no simple task. … "We started writing foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation," Billah said. "We got lots of letters back but no money. What we finally ended up doing was starting private fundraisers. We went to our families' friends, relatives for donations. We went to mosques and after a prayer we'd stand up and speak, ask for donations." Over $2,000 came from the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, where some students and their families are members.
Amana Academy, Alpharetta, Georgia
Amana Academy of, Alpharetta, Georgia.
Amana Academy of, Alpharetta, Georgia.
International Academy of Columbus and Westside Academy, in Columbus, Ohio
International Academy of Columbus, in Columbus, Ohio.
- Ahmad Al-Akhras, CAIR national vice chairman.
- Abukar Arman, the Somali terror apologist who was recently forced to resign from the Central Ohio Homeland Security oversight board.
- Abdinur Mohamud, business partner of Al-Akhras and Arman who also is listed as director of the Ohio Department of Education's Lau Resource Center.
In addition, Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and an advocate of replacing the US Constitution with shari'a law, attended fundraisers of the Islamic school associated with these two charter schools.
Westside Academy, in Columbus, Ohio.
Extremist politics, rather than education concerns, seems to be the driving factor of the schools. One of the leaders of the two schools admits to creating a program designed to keep students from integrating into the "racist" American mainstream. In a published education article, "Educating Immigrant Youth in the United States", Abukar Arman and his co-author lay out an educational plan of keeping Somali children from integrating into their new culture, and cite the experience of International Academy as the best example of their recommended "selected acculturation" educational philosophy in practice.
Another indicator of the partisan political and sectarian use of these schools is in an anti-Israel "teach-in" sponsored by CAIR-OH held at International Academy in September 2006, entitled "Palestine 101". The event was co-sponsored by a number of Marxist and extremist organizations: The Committee for Justice in Palestine, International Socialist Union, World Can't Wait-Columbus, and Not In Our Name-Columbus. CAIR national official and school treasurer Ahmad Al-Akhras served as one of the panelists.
Comment: We see here the usual mix of anti-Israel politics and radical Islam. (August 23, 2007)
Islamic School of Oasis, Cleveland, Ohio
Oasis is a taxpayer-funded voucher school. Unlike the other schools considered here, where one has to look around to find the Islamic agenda, it stares one in the face at Oasis, as Time magazine indicated in a 1999 visit:
"Are you afraid of the Judgment Day?" Sister Mira Anne Nattoli, clad in traditional Muslim robes, asks her fifth- and sixth-grade English class. Today's text is "The Twins and the Missing Math Paper," but the lesson is as much religion as English. "Whoever cheats," a young man reads carefully, "is not a good student of Islam." The students, about 95% African American, wear loose-fitting shirts and headdresses—skullcaps called kufis for the boys and scarves called khimars for the girls. Cleveland's Islamic School of Oasis is in many ways a typical Muslim day school, but with a twist. Tuition for more than half its students is paid by Cleveland, Ohio, taxpayers.
The Islamic School of Oasis … requires prayer: Zuhr, a short service, four days a week, and the longer Jumah service on Fridays. The posters here have an Islamic theme, like the MUSLIM CHILD'S ALPHABET, in which each letter has a Muslim reference: A is for Allah and Q is for Qu'ran. "We started as a religious school because the rights of Muslims were not being protected in the public schools," says principal Da'ud Abdul Malik. Before vouchers, about three-fourths of the student body was Muslim. Now, a majority is non-Muslim. But … the religious requirements apply to all.
Despite this school's blatant disregard of the separation of church and state, the U.S. Department of State boasts about Oasis at its "Muslim Life in America" feature.
Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences, Cleveland, Ohio
The academy, another taxpayer-funded voucher Islamic school, came to public attention when news came out that it had bilked the government for phantom students and had to shut down. As Americans United for Separation of Church and State explained in March 2000,
A state audit found last year that the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences had received $70,000 from the state by claiming to have enrolled students who were in fact not attending the institution. The school, which also had a convicted murderer on staff, shut down in the wake of the disclosures. State Auditor Jim Petro later issued a report saying that the Academy owes the state $69,967 for voucher payments it received for non-existent students. The Academy also billed the state $11,723 for utility bills and $5,250 in taxi fares to transport the fictitious students.
Ridgeland School District 122, Illinois
The Bridgeview, Illinois-based Mosque Foundation announces in its Community Pulse newsletter,
On July 9, 2007, Tom Smyth, the newly appointed Superintendent for Ridgeland School District 122, and Julie Shellberg, Assistant Superintendent for Specialized Programs for District 122, were invited to the Mosque Foundation to meet with representatives of the mosque and United Power for Action and Justice to discuss the issue of initiating an Arabic language program in their district. Ridgeland District 122 consists of elementary and middle schools from preschool to eighth grade, covering a large area of Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge. … With a very large percentage of Arab students in their district, 40% at Kolb School alone, they agreed to research the possibility of adding Arabic along with Spanish at Simmons Middle School.
Comment: From the sound of it, in the case of these Chicago-area schools, the Arabic-language program will be religiously compromised even before it comes into existence. (August 1, 2007)
The failed Detroit Public School system has been placed under receivership under an "emergency financial manager" named Robert Bobb. According to an article about his meeting with an Arab publisher, Bobb indicated his wish to have more students of Arab heritage in the school system and said that "he looks forward to learning about the various cultural aspects of the Arab American and Muslim communities so that DPS can better serve them. Currently, a sizeable and growing population of Arab and Muslim students live within Detroit's borders." The publisher suggested that Bobb hire a knowledgeable adviser on Arab and Muslim culture to his staff and Bobb was receptive to exploring that idea.
So far, so good, but then the article goes on: Bobb "said that Cleveland School in Detroit, which is now Detroit International Academy, made changes to accommodate Muslim students from diet and dress code perspectives and also had prayer rooms as well, which is a model that can be applied to future schools if need be."
Comment: As a correspondent asks, "Doesn't the 'P' in Detroit Public Schools stand for public?" (April 4, 2010)
Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy is the most important "madrassa" in the United States and so I devote a separate entry to it, "Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy – An Islamist Charter School in Minnesota?"
Silicon Valley Academy, Sunnyvale, California
Another a taxpayer-funded voucher school that teaches Islam on the sly, but it got caught in the act in December 2001 by Meredith May of the San Francisco Chronicle:
An unannounced visit to Silicon Valley Academy by The Chronicle last week found Korans in the principal's office, along with children's picture books titled My Little Qur'an. Students reported studying Islam in class and praying with their teachers. The academy appeared to operate like a private religious school, and parents picking up their children in the school parking lot said they thought it was. In the principal's office, decorated with pictures of Mecca, parents wrote tuition checks. And the school's Web site promised to provide instruction and moral values based on dedication to Allah.
Carver Elementary School, San Diego, California
Carver Elementary School, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade institution, has had an Arabic program since September 2006, explains Helen Gao at "Legality of Arabic Class Questioned." A teacher, Mary-Frances Stephens, told the school board yesterday about her experiences since being assigned to Carver on March 8: according to Gao,
she said she taught a "segregated class" of Muslim girls. She said she was given a lesson plan that included an hour for prayer. She alleged that a teacher's aide led the prayer. Stephens told the school board, "What I saw is clearly a violation of administrative, legislative and judicial guidelines."
Carver Elementary, San Diego, California.
July 2, 2007 update: The San Diego Unified School District investigated Mary-Frances Stephens' allegations (that religious indoctrination was taking place in Carver Elementary School and that a school aide led Muslim students in prayer) and found them unsubstantiated.
July 27, 2007 update: The San Diego Unified School District may have rejected Mary-Frances Stephens' allegations (see the July 2 entry), but it nonetheless had to change its practices, thereby substantiating her critique. Helen Gao writes at "Prayer OK at lunch, not classes at Carver" that "Carver Elementary's schedule will be reconfigured so students can say their required midday prayers during lunch," which is not a controversial time for praying in public American schools. In addition, the school will eliminate single-gender classes, Superintendent Carl Cohn indicated in a July 18 memo, because they have become "a serious distraction from learning rather than a vehicle to promote learning."
July 5, 2007 update: An Islamist organization, the "Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, North Carolina," has posted an online petition to win Arabic-language instruction in public high schools, "Say Yes to Arabic Language in NC High Schools." The reasons it offers are less than candid, however:
Islamic communities in North Carolina, as well as across the United States, and supporters of diverse pedagogy believe in the importance of cultivating a true appreciation for cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. We wish to advance these ideas and encourage students to view culturally inherent differences as building blocks rather than barriers and offer challenging opportunities to explore and grow both academically and socially.
Sep. 5, 2007 update: I published a column today, "Teach Arabic or Recruit Extremists?" that surveys taxpayer-funded pre-collegiate Arabic-language instruction in the United States – other than the Khalil Gibran International Academy. In almost every case I have found, politics and religion pollute what should be a sterile environment. As Martin Kramer notes to me, "The fact is that every form of Arabic instruction involves risk: K-12, university level, immersion overseas." The sooner educational administrators accept this unpalatable fact, the better and faster we can begin to equip Americans with knowledge of this language.
Oct. 23, 2007 update: See "Bibliography – My Writings on Islamic and Arabic Schools in the West" for a complete list of my analyses on this topic.