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What's Wrong With Arabic-Language Public School

Author: Amity Shlaes, Former Hayek Senior Fellow for Political Economy
May 17, 2007


A new school in Brooklyn hasn’t even opened yet, and it already has parents fuming.

The Khalil Gibran International Academy is a middle school set to offer instruction in Arabic language and culture. The city’s Department of Education planned to locate the school in the same building as Public School 282 in the Park Slope neighborhood.

But P.S. 282 parents complained that their kindergartners would be exposed to unruly preteens. The city relocated Khalil Gibran to a large multischool complex in another Brooklyn neighborhood, Boerum Hill. Parents there too rose up, arguing that there wasn’t enough space.

These are pretexts. But pretexts for what? Khalil Gibran’s supporters say that what the opposition really wants is to trash Islam after Sept. 11. Such hostility, they argue, is the wartime price that Muslims are paying for the conflict in Iraq. After all, they point out, the school is named after a Lebanese mystic who lived and died in New York, not a jihadist. Principal Debbie Almontaser has sworn her school won’t teach religion, just culture.

But there is a justification for the parental concerns, and it predates 9/11. The justification has as much to do with, say, Spanish as it does with Arabic. What’s wrong here is the public schools’ bilingual and bicultural education.

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