A School Grows in Brooklyn?

A new article in Color Lines revitalizes the discussion around the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, NY. The school, which teaches classes in both Arabic and English, was conceived of in 2005 as a multicultural learning environment.

“Since 9/11, Arabs have been targeted in New York,” said one Arab parent who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation by school administrators. “We wanted to have people come together to become global citizens and to have a different idea about Arabs.”

But the KGIA has had tough go of it since its inception, receiving negative press and accused of being a breeding ground for radical Islam by groups such as Campus Watch. The article reports these efforts have had a demoralizing effect on the school:

While the idea of sixth graders leading a religious crusade might sound ridiculous, the conservative groups succeeded in their attacks. Today, the school appears mired in an atmosphere of fear, tension and instability.

Such an atmosphere is clearly not a healthy one for either students or teachers.  In the article, one teacher speaks of resorting to censorship for fear of fueling the fire:

“We cut pictures of mosques out of the Arabic books,” said Hassan Omar, an Egyptian man who until last spring taught Arabic and humanities at the academy… “We are afraid that anything could be taken out of context.”

The school’s founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, resigned over a controversy involving the word Intifada, which literally means “shaking off” in Arabic, but has a charged, often misunderstood connotation here in the US.  Almontaser has pursued a First Amendment lawsuit against the City of New York.

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