August 10, 2007 –
It’s not often that United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten charts the wiser course in a dispute with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, but her newly voiced misgivings about the city’s Arabic-focused public school are right on target.
In a letter published on this page yesterday, Weingarten – who until now had been a strong supporter of the Khalil Gibran International Academy – ripped into principal Debbie Almontaser for her shockingly disingenuous defense of T-shirts bearing the slogan “Intifada NYC.”
The Department of Education, on the other hand, considers the matter closed. Moreover, insist school officials, it wasn’t much of an issue to begin with.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
As Weingarten wrote: “Both parents and teachers have a right to be concerned about children attending a school run by someone who doesn’t immediately denounce campaigns or ideas tied to violence.”
A school named for Khalil Gibran, she added, “should teach children about peace, not war-mongering – and principals should understand the difference.”
It’s clear that Almontaser doesn’t. She initially dismissed the significance of the term “intifada,” saying it was merely an Arabic word meaning “shaking off,” and claimed the shirts were “an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society . . . and shaking off oppression.”
That’s nonsense on its face; anyone foolish enough to believe it isn’t fit to hold a teacher’s license, let alone a principal’s warrant.
“Intifada” is the term used by Palestinians to describe two separate violent uprisings against Israelis – between 1987 and 1993 and again between 2000 and 2005 – that left 1,221 Israelis dead, mostly from suicide bombings. Thousands more Palestinians were killed by their fellow Arabs for allegedly “collaborating” with Israel.
Some “shaking off.”
Almontaser next tried to limit the damage, apologizing for “minimizing the word’s historical association” and calling the intifada T-shirts “inappropriate.”
“I regret suggesting otherwise,” she said. But she didn’t “suggest” anything.
Given every chance by The Post to condemn the shirts (which are being sold by a group which rents space from an organization whose board she’s on), she pointedly refused.
Klein, normally a sensible fellow, is on the wrong side of this one – as is the principals union, which declared: “It’s time to focus on educating the children.”
But precisely what kind of education does the city’s first school devoted to Arabic language and culture propose to offer? That’s the issue.
Meanwhile, The Post’s Chuck Bennett reports today that the Gibran Academy faces problems far beyond its intifada-apologist principal.
It’s enrolled only 44 students – barely 70 percent of capacity. And of those, only six are Arabic speakers. So what is the Department of Education going to do with all those Arabic-language textbooks it ordered?
The Khalil Gibran International Academy was a bad idea to begin with. Public education is supposed to be about pluralism, not separatism. This week’s problems – one of them cause for major concern – suggest that the Department of Education would do well to deep-six the school before things get worse.