Choice solves the religious holiday clash

You can’t please everyone. When Muslim parents in Montgomery County, Maryland asked for days off for Muslim holidays, the school board eliminated all religious holidays from the school calendar. It turns out you can annoy everyone.

Religion isn’t the problem, writes Cato’s Neal McCluskey on Reason. Public schooling is the problem, he argues. Choice is the solution.

McCluskey advocates vouchers for each student, so funding follows the child. “Let parents choose schools that share their values, religion, views on math curricula — you name it.”

The people of Montgomery County are diverse, and a single system of schools for which they all must pay simply cannot treat them equally. Just look at the “solution” the board came up with: ending official recognition of Christian and Jewish holidays, but holidays like Christmas and Yom Kippur remaining days off because attendance would be too low to operate. Muslims, meanwhile, are too small a minority to greatly affect attendance, so the schools will still be open on their holidays.

. . .  Values-based conflagrations are constantly flaring up across the country, whether the flashpoint is school holidays, student prayer at graduations, reading Huckleberry Finn, the content of history curricula or myriad other matters.

Parental choice — funded by taxpayers — could improve social cohesion, he argues.

. . . some empirical research has shown more meaningful connections between students of different races in private than public schools, perhaps because choosing a school based on shared values or interests provides a bonding agent more powerful than the things that divide groups. Finally, research has suggested chosen schools are better than public schools at instilling basic American civic values like voting and tolerance of others.

It’s almost impossible to treat everyone equally within a single school system, McCluskey concludes. “To foster peace and real unity, educational freedom is key.”

District drops preference for “non-Christian” teachers

When hiring teachers, “special consideration shall be given to women and/or minority defined as: Native American, Asian American, Latino, African American and those of the non-Christian faith,” reads the teachers’ union contract in Ferndale, Michigan. Earlier in the contract, however, a clause bans discrimination based on religion, notes Michigan Capitol Confidential.
The “non-Christian” language is “antiquated” and will be deleted, said a spokeswoman for Ferndale Public Schools. “The district does not discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion or other related issues,” she said.

Apparently, the language was added in the late ’70s. My guess is that someone noticed an increase in Muslim students and thought it would be nice to hire some Muslim teachers. But are Asian-American teachers underrepresented relative to the number of Asian-American students? I doubt it. And I’m sure there are plenty of female teachers in Ferndale. Why not “special consideration” for men?

It’s not clear that students learn more from a teacher of the same race, ethnicity or religion. But I’d have no problem with a school district that gave special consideration to applicants from the students’ neighborhoods and cultures. Should that kind of discrimination be OK?

Teacher charged with discussing ham

In Cadiz, Spain, a Muslim student charged his geography teacher with xenophobia and racism for discussing ham, reports Pajamas Media.  The teacher, a 20-year veteran, had mentioned that the cold mountain climate of the Granada town of Trevélez is conducive to curing ham.

The students’ parents filed a police complaint; the local prosecutor doesn’t plan to press charges.

Mohamed Ali, president of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities, called the student’s complaint “absolutely ridiculous,” saying the “Koran prohibits the consumption of ham, not the discussion of it.”

My Spanish isn’t too good, but I think the teacher also called the ham complaint ridiculous and grotesque.

ACLU sues ‘Muslim’ charter school

Calling it a “pervasively Muslim school,” the ACLU has filed suit against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a public charter school in Minnesota that shares space with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.

TiZA, founded in 2003, teaches 430 K-8 students. Although most students come  from low-income immigrant families — many are African — test scores are higher than the state average.

The lawsuit contends TiZA endorses Muslim religious practices by:

# Permitting prayer sessions during school hours and having teacher-sanctioned religious material posted on classroom bulletin boards.

# Allowing students and teachers to gather for 30 minutes of communal prayer every Friday.

# Giving preference to Muslim clothing rules. Girls, but not boys, are prohibited from wearing short sleeves. Girls also must wear skirts or pants of a certain length, depending on their grade level. Female teachers must be covered from neck to wrist and ankle.

A state investigation called for running buses for students who don’t wish to stay for the after-school religion classes and holding the Friday prayer service after school. School officials say they’ve complied.

Joe Nathan, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for School Change, puts TiZA “in the top 5 percent of schools he has reviewed in terms of academic excellence and commitment to tolerance.” As a Jew, Nathan says, he’s strongly committed to the separation of church (or mosque) and state.