11 April 2008

Critical Thinking Vacancy

Wow, people sure can allow themselves to be stupid.

Let's start with Katherine Kersten's April 9th column:

Charter schools are public schools and by law must not endorse or promote religion. Evidence suggests, however, that Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), is an Islamic school, funded by Minnesota taxpayers.

TIZA has many characteristics that suggest a religious school. It shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is "establishing Islam in Minnesota." The building also houses a mosque. TIZA's executive director, Asad Zaman, is a Muslim imam, or religious leader, and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief. Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves halal food - permissible under Islamic law -- and "Islamic Studies" is offered at the end of the school day.
This sounds a bit suspicious, but let's keep going.
Arriving on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, (substitute teacher Amanda Getz) says she was told that the day's schedule included a "school assembly" in the gym after lunch. Before the assembly, she says she was told, her duties would include taking her fifth-grade students to the bathroom, four at a time, to perform "their ritual washing." Afterward, Getz said, "teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day," was preparing to lead prayer. Beside him, another man "was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet as the students entered." "The prayer I saw was not voluntary," Getz said. "The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred."
Kersten's column goes on to show what I consider to be an example of the way in which many of those who practice Islam seek to have their religion validated and endorsed by public means. If they don't get express accommodation from the state, they will simply take it when no one (in this case, the Minnesota Department of Education) is looking.

Kersten summarizes:
(I)f TIZA were a Christian school, it would likely be gone in a heartbeat. TIZA is now being held up as a national model for a new kind of charter school. If it passes legal muster, Minnesota taxpayers may soon find themselves footing the bill for a separate system of education for Muslims.
No doubt, but don't let facts like that get in the way of the usual apologists:
We work at the University of Minnesota, a public institution. It closes on Christian holidays. Tests and breaks are planned around Christian holidays. The floating holiday this year was on Good Friday. The university claims it is not a Christian university. Should we believe it? Brooklyn Park has a community center that receives public money. It has a large Christmas tree every year, is closed on Christmas and has "holiday parties" around Christmas. The community center claims it is not a Christian institution, but should we believe it?

Fedwa Wazwaz, Brooklyn Park and Marcia Lynx Qualey, St. Paul
Without knowing Wazwaz or Qualey personally, now that I've digested their arguments, I am sure they would be among the first to scream from the ACLU to the Supreme Court should this same sort of institutional structure and lack of state oversight manifest itself in a public school structured around Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. What's clearly beyond the grasp of people like Wazwaz and Qualey is that it's one thing to passively acknowledge a culture's traditions for adults, it's quite another to structure public education for one religion for school-age children.

Kersten appeared on the April 10th Garage Logic show and hit it out of the park (pardon my paraphrasing):
(The way TIZA is run) it's as if you had a public school housed in the Catholic archdiocese, with a Catholic church in that building, with the principal of that school being a Catholic priest, sponsored by Catholic Charities, with the chair of its board being the archbishop of that archdiocese, with curriculum focused around Chrisendom, Latin was taught as a second language, all the kids prayed the Rosary four days a week and on Friday were released to go to Mass, no fish in the cafeteria for Lent, the Catholic Catechism was taught after school, but the buses didn't leave until after those teachings.
And she's right, much to the scorn of the small-minded hustlers that have form letters to the Star Tribune's editorial page all ready to go, no matter the topic du jour. If you want to have an Islamic shool, fine; do it on your own dime, just like every other religion.

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