Immigrants choose ethnocentric charters

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.

About Joanne


  1. If you study the school system in Edmonton, Canada, you can based your comments on evidence rather than speculation. The Edmonton system is a public system based on the principle of diversity and choice, and has several instances of what you are calling ‘ethnocentric’ schools. The social fabric of Edmonton has not collapsed – quite the contrary (look up the city’s Heritage Days Festival). And the graduates are among the best educated in the world.

  2. On one hand, I see the reasons, but part of me thinks this is nuts. Why can’t my WASP kids see their uptight, well-mannered, retro culture represented at tax-payer expense?

  3. read Powerline for the rest of the story:

    Edmonton isn’t a very good example of work integration these days if you are Jewish…

  4. Is Powerline still publishing? They, along with the rest of the neocon attack blogs, are suffering from a credibility gap these days.

    In any case, Allison apparently confuses Edmonton, a city in Canada, with the Twin Cities in Minnesota, which is what Powerline is writing about.

    And I’m having trouble finding the fear factor here. So some east African students are learning Arabic. So there are after-hours classes in Islam. What’s wrong with that?

    Edmonton is in fact a very good place to be Jewish. Your children can attend the Talmud Torah School from anywhere in the city and you have a wide range of social and cultural activities to participate in.

  5. Some east African students are learning Arabic on the public dime, that’s what’s wrong.

    If their mommies and daddies want them to learn the language of the old country and to maintain their colorful traditions then they’re perfectly welcome to do so. Just as long as they aren’t using tax money.

  6. GoogleMaster says:

    Some east African students are learning Arabic on the public dime, that’s what’s wrong.

    So, allen, we shouldn’t offer classes in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Russian, or Chinese on the public dime, either, in case we might be teaching the language of someone’s old country?

    Last I heard, this country had some departments that sorely needed Arabic translators.