In charter-friendly Minnesota, Immigrants See Charter Schools as a Haven, reports the New York Times. Immigrant parents are seeking schools that shelter their children from American youth culture with its droopy pants and disrespect.
The curriculum at the Twin Cities International Elementary School, and at its partner middle school and high school, is similar to that of other public schools with high academic goals. But at Twin Cities International the girls say they can freely wear head scarves without being teased, the lunchroom serves food that meets the dietary requirements of Muslims, and in every classroom there are East African teaching assistants who understand the needs of students who may have spent years in refugee camps. Twin Cities International students are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, with a small population from the Middle East.
Parents are especially eager for schools to teach respect for elders.
Perhaps nothing more vividly demonstrated the students’ enthusiasm for American democracy than a debate this fall in Elizabeth Veldman’s eighth-grade social studies class about the presidential race. The two teams of students had spent days preparing.
“Look at our history — look at what happened with the Vietnam War,” said Yaqub Ali, 13, a fervent supporter of Senator John McCain who arrived four years ago from a Somalian refugee camp in Kenya, knowing no English. “Do you want to lose a war?”
“Sit down, Yaqub!” commanded Ridwa Yakob, who describes herself as “a girl who loves to talk.” She argued that Senator Barack Obama would fix everything from education to the economy.
Yaqub, wearing a dark suit for the occasion, rose again. “John McCain is old,” he said. “It is better to be old.”
At the International school, where elders are revered, even Ridwa was silenced.
Thirty of Minnesota’s 138 charter schools are designed to serve specific immigrant or ethnic groups, including Hmong and Latino students.
Refugee students, especially the children of poorly educated parents, often struggle to adapt to U.S. schools. If the international charters are teaching academics well, I’m willing to forgive the self-segregation.
I’m dubious about plans for a Hebrew-English charter school in Brooklyn. Founders promise to pick a non-Jewish principal to ensure the state-synagogue divide is respected, but it seems very unlikely the school will attract non-Jewish students. It’s hard to argue that an all-Jewish public school serves an educational need.
New York City does have an Arabic-English school run by the district, which has attracted many black students who speak no Arabic. After a Muslim principal was forced out and a Jewish principal appointed as an interim pick, the school now has a non-Arab principal, raised as a Methodiest, who speaks Arabic and has taught in the Mideast.
Update: If Twin Cities International is for East African refugees, Powerline asks, why teach Arabic? It’s not their native language. Another Minnesota charter primarily serving students from Africa, has skated very close to the mosque-state line.