Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The purpose of public education

Via Eduwonk, a column by Diane Ravitcb against the Khalil Gibran International Academy charter school that will focus on Arabic language and culture in Brooklyn. Ravitch writes that
Our city contains immigrants from every nation in the world, who speak many different languages. If we were to create special schools for each group that wants to preserve its cultural heritage, it would be the end of the historic ideal of public education as a common training ground for future citizens.
First of all, I think it's important to note that this is already happening, de facto, in charter schools (and probably non-charter public schools) in New York City. I've written about this before -- sometimes groups tend to flock to certain schools, and those schools end up having a distinct ethnic or cultural character.

Second, this is also happening in charter schools around the country. I worked with a group in Philadelphia that was trying to start up a charter school to meet the needs of a large African immigrant population in West Philadelphia. The kids' needs were simply not being met in the traditional public schools.

And this seems to be what charter schools in the Twin Cities are all about. I visited a school there that was, as the director kept telling me, "100% Hmong"; a school where special hand-washing stations were built to facilitate the religious needs of Somali and Ethiopian students, who were a majority; a bilingual charter school created to celebrate Latino culture.

I felt that each school was teaching kids, as Ravitch says it is public schools' job to do, "to think critically about the world they live in and at the same time to prepare them to take responsibility as American citizens." But they also do what, in my mind, charter schools are supposed to do -- they meet the educational needs of kids whose needs aren't being met in the non-charter schools, as a result of a grassroots, community effort.

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