Monday, April 28, 2008

Teaching our Children Intolerance

Let's lay out a hypothetical situation. A moderate Jewish American leader is chosen to lead a new school in which students will be taught in English and Hebrew in order to facilitate cultural understanding. They will learn history with a global perspective, and religion will only have a place in their global studies courses along with other religions. The board consists of Israeli organizations who support the school, as well as well-respected religious leaders from different religions. Would there be an outrage over such a proposition? If the school was considering offering kosher meal options in the cafeteria, would there be an uproar? A fear that the school would be forcing the Jewish religion into the political sphere? Would newspapers try to dig up dirt on the well-known moderate jewish professional chosen to be principal? If this sounds ridiculous to you, and I hope it does, then take note of the fate that has befallen Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, as reported in the New York Times. Her school was meant to teach children tolerance and foster a better understanding of Arab nations and history. Students would learn Arabic as part of their curriculum (an important lesson as our government needs more people with those skills, and businesses increasingly court places like Dubai). Instead, the prejudices and suspicious attitudes of citizens and media outlets have needlessly destroyed her reputation and credibility. A woman once revered for her moderate consensus building, painted an extremist, killing her vision of understanding. We cannot write it off as being distant, or a product of small town mentality. This is the proclaimed melting pot of NYC, and if there can be no tolerance here, that is a symptom of a serious problem. And so we are trapped in another cycle of suspicion and prejudice. And as once the Jewish were subject to these same close-minded attitudes, it is the Arabs' and Muslims' turn.

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