Skip

Black and White and Hebrew All Over
August 8, 2011 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Black and White and Hebrew All Over. The Village Voice profiles the Hebrew Language Academy, a dual-language charter school in Brooklyn. Is it a rare success story for the big-city ideal of educational innovation simultaneously serving rich and poor communities? A clever way for Jewish New Yorkers to get their kids Hebrew instruction on the states's dime? A little of both?
posted by escabeche (54 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can pretty much see that building out of my office window. Passing by it, I was always confounded by all the black kids going to what I assumed was a Yeshiva. Not that there aren't black Jews, but the sheer quantity was a little odd. Especially because this area is an upper-middle-class Orthodox Jewish enclave -- most kids around here go to private school -- that is really unlike most other parts of Brooklyn and about a mile from the closest train.

Anyway, if the instruction is secular and they're teaching modern Hebrew rather than Biblical Hebrew, I don't see any problem here.
posted by griphus at 7:49 AM on August 8, 2011


No different than sending your kids to a Christian denominational school to get a better education.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:52 AM on August 8, 2011


I don't really understand the objection. The objection is that a Hebrew academy is inherently religious, because Hebrew is too obscure a language for anyone to care about for any reason other than religion? Even though lots of kids in the school appear not to be Jewish? That's just bizarre. What's the cut-off for being a popular-enough language? And would people say something similar about a school that taught, say, Latin, because the Catholic church uses Latin? How about Sanskrit?
posted by craichead at 7:55 AM on August 8, 2011


Also, is there any reason to compare the Hebrew academy with the Arabic academy, rather than one of the many, many other language academies in New York?
posted by craichead at 7:59 AM on August 8, 2011


Well, there is a reason for comparison, craichead, since both were suspected of covertly running religious schools under the guise of modern-language instruction.

Sounds like, in this case, the accusations didn't pan out at all, and the instruction is secular (not sure what happened with the other school - I don't live in NY.)
posted by Wylla at 8:04 AM on August 8, 2011


I guess a tenuous connection could be made between the two academies when you consider that the driving force to close the latter was a group headed by a notoriously obnoxious Zionist?
posted by elizardbits at 8:05 AM on August 8, 2011


on non-preview, wylla's point is far better than mine.
posted by elizardbits at 8:07 AM on August 8, 2011


I guess a tenuous connection could be made between the two academies when you consider that the driving force to close the latter was a group headed by a notoriously obnoxious Zionist?
I'm confused about what makes that a connection.
posted by craichead at 8:08 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh no, kids are learning two languages, one of which is also used in religious texts. Now they will find it easier to learn a third language later!

I'm not clear how charter schools are allowed to be started, so is there something suspicious about a group starting one if it teaches something unusual but is open to students outside of that group?
posted by jeather at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


craichead: "I don't really understand the objection. The objection is that a Hebrew academy is inherently religious, because Hebrew is too obscure a language for anyone to care about for any reason other than religion? Even though lots of kids in the school appear not to be Jewish? That's just bizarre. What's the cut-off for being a popular-enough language? And would people say something similar about a school that taught, say, Latin, because the Catholic church uses Latin? How about Sanskrit?"

There are several issues here.

1) Are they teaching religion? When a similar Hebrew charter school in Hollywood, FL was built in 2007, it fell into controversy for that reason.

2) Should a school being paid for with public funds restrict itself to "celebrating" one culture over others?

3) Will these schools support ethnic diversity?

The latter question was asked last year when a similar school was proposed in Los Angeles. An editorial response from Mother Jones was widely linked on Jewish-oriented blogs at the time:
People's Exhibit A: Brooklyn's Hebrew Language Academy in Kings Highway (an neighborhood which is in many parts profoundly Jewish, though not particularly Orthodox). I visited founders of the HLA during the firestorm of controversy that surrounded its opening. Give 'em an inch and they'll be learning Gemara before you can say shalosh, cried the critics. Only Jewish parents want it, groused the Times. It'll be a yeshiva in public school's clothing, screamed the Post. (To be fair, HLA did end up in an old yeshiva building—but go ahead and ask me how many HeadStart preschool programs are also housed in old yeshivas in Marine Park, Kings Highway and Brighton Beach and nobody bats an eyelash—go ahead, ask me).
Meanwhile, a similar school has been proposed for North Jersey.

My wife works in the industry. We know a few people who live in Teaneck and Englewood who put their kids in the charter school when it opened. More on that school here. Yeshivas and private schools are expensive, especially for Orthodox families who often have at least two kids. They probably don't consider the charter school option perfect, but it's still "more Jewish" than a standard public school education. And their kids will most likely be going to school with a mostly Jewish student body -- which is likely important to them.
posted by zarq at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2011


I meant that in one case, the movement for closing the school was backed by a loud and antagonistic agenda, but with the other school, that same agenda would likely turn its efforts to keeping it open?

But yeah, neither of those schools seem worthy of objections on any level.
posted by elizardbits at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2011


The Shalom Academy (Englewood) had some controversy of its own from within the Jewish community. The concern was that it would attract children away from local yeshivas and for-pay schools. Which is exactly what happened.
posted by zarq at 8:19 AM on August 8, 2011


*sigh* I really should not comment before drinking my morning vat of coffee. The "similar school has been proposed for North Jersey" has opened already. I said as much in the next graph, but still, it's a confusing error. Apologies.
posted by zarq at 8:21 AM on August 8, 2011


1) Are they teaching religion? When a similar Hebrew charter school in Hollywood, FL was built in 2007, it fell into controversy for that reason.
Is there any evidence that they are teaching religion?
2) Should a school being paid for with public funds restrict itself to "celebrating" one culture over others?
Again, that's not an issue that is in any way specific to this school. I have friends who are angling wildly to get their kid into the New York French-American charter school, and I don't think there are any articles hand-wringing about that one.
3) Will these schools support ethnic diversity?
The answer seems clearly to be yes.

I can understand how Hebrew-language charter schools could be controversial in other places, but in the context of New York, where language and cultural charter schools are very common, I'm really suspicious about this one, like the Arabic one, being singled out for scrutiny.
posted by craichead at 8:24 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm really suspicious about this one, like the Arabic one, being singled out for scrutiny.

Unlike just about every other immigrant group, neither of them are Christian/create a Christian community and most people in America are and live in one and use that as a point of reference.

Also, there's quite a bit of contention between the Arabic and Jewish communities in Brooklyn, but that's a whole other can of worms.
posted by griphus at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


craichead: "Is there any evidence that they are teaching religion?

The school (all of these schools) have a very fine line to walk, and I think the scrutiny is worthwhile -- if only to enforce the point to those running it that they must keep religious teaching out of the classroom. And hopefully political teachings as well. Their curriculum teaches about Jewish and Israeli culture. If you'll notice in the Times link:
Rabbi Siegel said the school was proceeding with such extreme caution that even a neutral mention of religion was unlikely. The sign outside Ben Gamla was going to include a Hebrew phrase for “welcome,” Rabbi Siegel said, but because the literal translation is “blessed are those who come,” he decided against it.

“Even basic things, like if there was a page that had a picture of a shofar, I pulled it out,” Rabbi Siegel said, referring to the ram’s horn used in High Holy Day services. “We went so far overboard, it’s crazy.”

The school board rejected Ben Gamla’s first two Hebrew curriculum proposals after finding they included religious references. The second, which relied on a textbook titled “Ha-Yesod,” asked students to translate phrases like “Our Holy Torah is dear to us” and “Man is redeemed from his sins through repentance.”


I think you'll agree that the latter would have clearly been a form of religious instruction. It's akin to making kids at a public school translate Italian phrases like "Christ is our lord and saviour."

Regarding politics, I'd personally like to know if they're teaching the Israel / Palestine situation objectively or in a biased way.

Again, that's not an issue that is in any way specific to this school. I have friends who are angling wildly to get their kid into the New York French-American charter school, and I don't think there are any articles hand-wringing about that one.

Agreed. It would be more problematic if the charter school was zoned, the way that Board of Ed charter schools are -- and attendance was compulsory.

I remain unconvinced that a Hebrew charter school will be ethnically diverse. But as long as they're not turning anyone away, then they should be okay.

I can understand how Hebrew-language charter schools could be controversial in other places, but in the context of New York, where language and cultural charter schools are very common, I'm really suspicious about this one, like the Arabic one, being singled out for scrutiny."

I guess I'm more a proponent of better safe than sorry when it comes to teaching kids and religious teachings potentially being paid for by the state. Scrutiny isn't a bad thing, if applied without prejudice.
posted by zarq at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2011


I think you'll agree that the latter would have clearly been a form of religious instruction. It's akin to making kids at a public school translate Italian phrases like "Christ is our lord and saviour."
Hmm. The Irish phrase for hello is dia duit, which literally means "God be with you." I'm fairly certain that kids would learn that phrase at an Irish charter school, and I bet there'd be no objection.
I remain unconvinced that a Hebrew charter school will be ethnically diverse.
Did you read the article? Here's how it starts:
Black kids and white kids are sitting together in a building that used to house a private yeshiva.

It's not exactly what you'd expect to see when you walk into the Hebrew Language Academy (HLA), a public charter school in the largely Jewish neighborhood where Midwood meets Marine Park.

But in each kindergarten classroom, you'll find just that: tables of four children, with both white and black students seated at them.

Here's why that's so unusual in New York City: At "gifted" public schools, students are often nearly all white and Asian. At the city's poorly performing public schools, students are usually all black and Latino. Even charter schools, of whatever quality, are 95 percent black or Latino....

"We're the most diverse public school in New York City," Campbell and her staff repeatedly claim. While that's a difficult thing to quantify, the numbers do show that 55 percent of families identify their children as white, 38 percent as black, 6 percent as Hispanic, and 1 percent as multiracial.
And finally...
Scrutiny isn't a bad thing, if applied without prejudice.
It's the "without prejudice" part I'm not sure I buy, especially given that the article tells us there's another charter school that shares a building with a church, has a pastor on its board, and has a big Noah's Ark mural in a classroom. But I'm sure it's a secular Noah's Ark mural.
posted by craichead at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My first reaction was that Hebrew just is not the most useful second language to learn. I'm surprised that there is so much interest. But I don't care so long as the school itself is not religiously segregated.

Me, I'd send my kids to a Chinese-language charter school, or (being Canadian) a French one.
posted by jb at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2011


Did you read the article?

I did. Sorry, that should have said "remain" diverse, not "be" diverse.

craichead: " Hmm. The Irish phrase for hello is dia duit, which literally means "God be with you." I'm fairly certain that kids would learn that phrase at an Irish charter school, and I bet there'd be no objection. "

And I learned the word "Ojala" in Spanish class in high school, which means "G-d Wiling." But there's clearly a difference between teaching someone a word or phrase which has religious overtones or meanings that is part of a language's common vernacular, and teaching someone random phrases that speak about redemption from sin through repentance and the Holy Torah that are have no other context than religious instruction. I can see teaching kids about the shofar, even though it's an object that is only ever used for religious purposes, but are they also teaching the kids about communion wafers?

Context and intent are going to matter there.

craichead: " It's the "without prejudice" part I'm not sure I buy, especially given that the article tells us there's another charter school that shares a building with a church, has a pastor on its board, and has a big Noah's Ark mural in a classroom. But I'm sure it's a secular Noah's Ark mural."

I'd object to that, too.

It's obvious to any non-Christian (and many Christians) that there is a double standard in this country when it comes to the religion of the majority. Christianity is so ingrained in some aspects of American culture that it can be hard to separate out. But we do pay attention when Christians decide to teach faith-based mythology called "intelligent design" at an equal level as science. Or when they attempt to impose their religious beliefs legislatively through dominionist tactics. I don't think the proper response to seeing someone teach faith in a publicly-funded classroom should be, "Well, the Christians are doing it. So why are we only attacking the Jews?" It doesn't belong in either setting.
posted by zarq at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2011


I don't think the proper response to seeing someone teach faith in a publicly-funded classroom should be, "Well, the Christians are doing it. So why are we only attacking the Jews?" It doesn't belong in either setting.

It might not belong in either setting, but "why are we letting schools teach one religion and not a different religion?" is a very proper question to the situation where Christian imagery is fine but imagery for any other religion is attacked.
posted by jeather at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2011


Oh, and just to be clear... I think the Brooklyn project is great. I have met a couple of people who were involved in it, and they seem passionately devoted to bringing a superior secular education to the area -- a serious alternative for many Jewish families to yeshiva / day school instruction and to overcrowded, overstrained NYC public schools for everyone. My wife and I have discussed possibly sending our kids to a charter school when they're older.

But yes, I also think we should be paying attention to the details.
posted by zarq at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2011


And I learned the word "Ojala" in Spanish class in high school, which means "G-d Wiling." But there's clearly a difference between teaching someone a word or phrase which has religious overtones or meanings that is part of a language's common vernacular, and teaching someone random phrases that speak about redemption from sin through repentance and the Holy Torah that are have no other context than religious instruction.
According to the thing that you quoted, the offending phrase that was removed from the Hebrew-language school for being religious was the Hebrew phrase for "welcome." It wasn't a random phrase about sin and redemption.
Christianity is so ingrained in some aspects of American culture that it can be hard to separate out. But we do pay attention when Christians decide to teach faith-based mythology called "intelligent design" at an equal level as science.
You think it's the same thing when Christians teach Christian theology as if it's science, on the one hand, and when a language academy exists, in the context of several other language academies, that happens to teach a language that is associated with Jews?
posted by craichead at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My first reaction was that Hebrew just is not the most useful second language to learn. I'm surprised that there is so much interest. But I don't care so long as the school itself is not religiously segregated.

Depends on what you end up doing, I suppose. If you grow up to be a pastor or rabbi, Hebrew is going to be more readily useful than Chinesw, even if learned in a secular context. Also, if you become a Middle East historian, or archeologist who specializes in the region. Whatever the case, as far as I can tell, we don't create these sorts of schools based on what will be the most useful in a generalized context. I grew up studying Hebrew, and make almost no use of it in my day-to-day life, but don't regret taking it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2011


craichead: " According to the thing that you quoted, the offending phrase that was removed from the Hebrew-language school for being religious was the Hebrew phrase for "welcome." It wasn't a random phrase about sin and redemption. "

That wasn't all that was removed. Read the last graph from what I quoted out of the NY Times. I'll paste it again here, emphasis mine:
The school board rejected Ben Gamla’s first two Hebrew curriculum proposals after finding they included religious references. The second, which relied on a textbook titled “Ha-Yesod,” asked students to translate phrases like “Our Holy Torah is dear to us” and “Man is redeemed from his sins through repentance.”

craichead: " You think it's the same thing when Christians teach Christian theology as if it's science, on the one hand, and when a language academy exists, in the context of several other language academies, that happens to teach a language that is associated with Jews?"

No.

What I'm objecting to is the teaching of religion (ANY religion) in a public classroom. And yes, asking kids to translate phrases that are wholly religious in nature is religious instruction. Not to mention a bit misrepresentative of Hebrew as a spoken, secular language.
posted by zarq at 9:53 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


jeather: " It might not belong in either setting, but "why are we letting schools teach one religion and not a different religion?" is a very proper question to the situation where Christian imagery is fine but imagery for any other religion is attacked."

If you're trying to ban them both, yes. But not if you're trying to excuse one because of the other.
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on August 8, 2011


If my high school Bible in Literature and History class had come under the kind of scrutiny that this charter school is, we couldn't have had the class. Which is too bad - it was a course that students designed, taught by an English teacher who was the daughter of a Baptist minister (though no longer a practitioner herself) and a history teacher who had some background in ancient Middle East studies. To a person who hadn't been in the class from the start, I'm sure there were a few instances where it could have looked like we were being taught religion. At least half the kids in the class were Jewish.

The same is true for my French classes in both high school and college (if you're going to talk about French history and art, for instance, it's pretty hard to do that without looking hard at the role of religion in both), and for sure my choir/glee club rehearsals in high school and college, where we often spent time talking about the meaning and context of the religious music we sang.

Long-winded way of saying that, on the one hand, we shouldn't have religion taught in public schools on the public dime; on the other hand, teaching kids Hebrew while trying to avoid all mention of religion seems absurd. There are ways to teach about religion without actually teaching religion, and it's a shame that that doesn't seem (politically) possible in most places.
posted by rtha at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that American Jews have chosen-- how consciously might be argued-- to knit themselves into national culture more deeply and thoroughly than Jews in Europe ever did, even in Germany before the rise of the Nazis ( I consider it a great pity America doesn't appear to be getting anything like Yiddish out of the process, however).

I wonder if the stickiest issue of religious instruction in this school will turn out to be that non-Jewish students are not being proselytized; I've seen it argued that a significant factor in the rise of the Black Muslims was black consternation that, despite the absolutely crucial role American Jews played in the civil rights campaign, black people were not actually being invited to to become Jews.
posted by jamjam at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


jamjam: "I wonder if the stickiest issue of religious instruction in this school will turn out to be that non-Jewish students are not being proselytized; I've seen it argued that a significant factor in the rise of the Black Muslims was black consternation that, despite the absolutely crucial role American Jews played in the civil rights campaign, black people were not actually being invited to to become Jews."

What? Where?
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2011


jamjam: "I've seen it argued that a significant factor in the rise of the Black Muslims was black consternation that, despite the absolutely crucial role American Jews played in the civil rights campaign, black people were not actually being invited to to become Jews."

Perhaps? But does the rise of Islam in African American communities not strike you as a lot more complicated than that?

Christianity had been used for generations to subjugate/enslave African American men and women, and in the 1930's there was a movement from within some communities to recognize this and move away from it. The teachings of Elijah Muhammed (he wrote a book called "Message to the Black Man in America") said that:
...the ultimate solution to the problem facing the African-American community was total separation from White society and the establishment of a Black Muslim state somewhere in North America or elsewhere. Furthermore, Muhammad taught that integration was a hypocritical and deceptive offer. Its intention was to deceive Black people into believing the opponents of freedom, justice, and equality were now their friends. Elijah Muhammad despised the Christian doctrine of loving one's enemy. In fact, his thinking concurred with W. D. Fard's hostile view of Christianity. Moreover, he saw the Black preacher as the greatest impediment to the progress of the Black race.
You could still be right. But the idea that they turned to Islam because the Jews wouldn't let them in feels... disrespectful, somehow. As if African Americans who became Muslim are somehow being accused of settling for second best because their first, better choice was denied them.
posted by zarq at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2011


If you're trying to ban them both, yes. But not if you're trying to excuse one because of the other.

On the one hand, neither is excusable. On the other hand, it is much worse to have only minority religions singled out for special scrutiny, so Christianity is even more normalized as "not religious, just how people naturally are".

despite the absolutely crucial role American Jews played in the civil rights campaign, black people were not actually being invited to to become Jews.

No one is invited to become a Jew, it's not how the religion works.
posted by jeather at 11:52 AM on August 8, 2011


I read the claim in a biographical discussion of Louis Farrakhan that passed out of my hands more than twenty years ago, and perhaps also in an old NYRB article.


Perhaps? But does the rise of Islam in African American communities not strike you as a lot more complicated than that?

Of course it does, zarq. That's why I used "significant" rather than 'primary', or 'main'.

As for somehow disrespecting Black Muslims, I'd say it does so no more than noting that anti-Semitism in the German academy contributed to the development of "unserer ding" (if I'm recalling the phrase from one of Freud's letters correctly), aka psychoanalysis, disrespects that hugely influential movement.
posted by jamjam at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2011


Islam is very important all over Africa. The conversion of African-Americans to Islam has more to do with trying to regain some of that history.
posted by jb at 12:01 PM on August 8, 2011


Also, many Jews were seriously assimilationalist in Germany before WW2 - they would have defined themselves as German first, and Jewish second. But the Nazis didn't care about that.
posted by jb at 12:03 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


am just going to leave this right here...
posted by liza at 12:06 PM on August 8, 2011


I read the claim in a biographical discussion of Louis Farrakhan...

Farrakhan is a ... problematic ... person with whom to have an objective discussion about Judaism.
posted by griphus at 12:18 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


am just going to leave this right here...
Can you clarify what you think that has to do with this discussion?
posted by craichead at 12:25 PM on August 8, 2011


liza: "am just going to leave this right here..."

Almontaser, Gibran and the school's plight were mentioned in the first article (second to last graph on this page,) and a comparison was drawn between them.

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make by linking to an editorial about how Almontaser was railroaded? It's already mentioned in the FPP. Can you please clarify?
posted by zarq at 12:29 PM on August 8, 2011


Question, is Debbit Almostaser one of the Almotasers ? Almotasers have been a fixture in Brooklyn for 30+ years.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:03 PM on August 8, 2011


Damn, what is with my typing today. Debbie Almontaser. I couln't pronounce Almontaser when I was a kid, always called the restaurant "Al Monsters"
posted by Ad hominem at 1:11 PM on August 8, 2011


No one is invited to become a Jew, it's not how the religion works.

Or, to be a little more clear: That's not how the ethnicity works. I mean, yes, it's a religion too, but converting to Judaism isn't just professing a new faith; it's more like arranging to be adopted into a new family.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:02 PM on August 8, 2011


No, it's not how the *religious aspects of Judaism* work. The ethnicity and the culture are different questions, which are even more completely off-topic. Judaism as a religion, though it accepts converts, does not look for them, does not proselytise for them, and does not just take people in as Jews without a lot of work.
posted by jeather at 2:10 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the school sounds pretty neat. We had Spanish instruction in elementary school--I think kids enjoy learning languages, and Hebrew is a really interesting language in terms of the alphabet and the way it sounds. I loved the story of the little Haitian girl at the dentist talking to elderly Jewish ladies in Hebrew.

I admit though that the biggest thing I took out of the whole article was the shocking segregation of NYC schools, which this charter seems to be a lonely exception to. I grew up in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the 80s and 90s, when we were under court order that every school matched as closely as possible the 60% white/40% black composition of the city.

What a shame to grow up in one of the most diverse cities on earth and yet mostly only go to school with people whose background is exactly the same as yours. And what a shame that the city seems to largely encourage this segregation through the systems of "gifted" and charter schools.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:34 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


As jeather points out, a second language acquired early makes a third language much easier to learn. I expect that Judaism is subtly but deeply embedded in Hebrew, but probably only exactly to the extent that Xtianity is embedded in English and Islam in Arabic. The frightened voices of Stop The Madrassa Coalition have performed no service in their assaults on the Khalil Gibran Academy for teaching in Arabic, and it would be a similar wrong for others to attack the Hebrew Language Academy.

But there might be concerns about the utility of Hebrew as a second language. Blacks in particular might find it problematic: Israelis are notoriously anti-black.
posted by fredludd at 3:40 PM on August 8, 2011


Fredludd wrote: Israelis are notoriously anti-black.

Oh, piffle. And you're not doing yourself any favors by linking to a racist article that isn't even talking about blacks.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:05 PM on August 8, 2011


My first reaction was that Hebrew just is not the most useful second language to learn. I'm surprised that there is so much interest

Picking up a language is its own reward, and if the other classes are good, I suspect the parents don't give a rat's ass whether the language is Hebrew or Lojban.

That said, Hebrew is non-Indo-European, and a classical language, and closely related to Arabic, Amharic and distantly related to Swahili. Learning a non-Aryan grammar at an early age is incredibly useful. Learning a classical language makes centuries of European writing more readily accessible to you.
posted by ocschwar at 7:33 PM on August 8, 2011


And what a shame that the city seems to largely encourage this segregation through the systems of "gifted" and charter schools.

I went to a "gifted" junior high and high school in Brooklyn. The only things we had in common were being lower-middle-class and (mostly) immigrants.
posted by griphus at 7:35 PM on August 8, 2011


So you would disagree with the Voice's assessment of NYC public schools?
Here's why that's so unusual in New York City: At "gifted" public schools, students are often nearly all white and Asian. At the city's poorly performing public schools, students are usually all black and Latino. Even charter schools, of whatever quality, are 95 percent black or Latino.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:47 PM on August 9, 2011


Well, I'm not an educator and I grew up in Brooklyn, so I can only speak for my experiences in that location. My biggest problem with that statement, and with the commenter's, is the complete unqualification of "white" in regard to cultural diversity. My junior high school was pretty evenly split between black/Latino, Asian and white, but "white" in this case was mostly first- or second-generation immigrant, mainly Italian and Soviet. My high school was predominantly black/Latino and Asian, with immigrant-based white in the minority. I can't say I have ever felt a lack of diversity that the commenter I was quoting implies, nor does anyone else I know who attended a public school in Brooklyn.
posted by griphus at 2:03 PM on August 9, 2011


I was born in the 1970's. The demographics of the city have changed since I was in high school. Perhaps the schools have too.

But my experience doesn't sound that much difference from griphus'.

I went to public school in Brooklyn and Queens, and public high school in Manhattan and Queens. In Brooklyn, I was the only Jewish kid in my class, (they all went to Yeshiva) but the class was quite evenly mixed racially. In Queens, the public schools classes were predominantly white, Asian and Latin mix, with a decent-sized black (African-American and non) minority. In high school, I was part of a large White minority. The school was evenly mixed: Black, Latins, Asians (including a substantial Indian and Pakistani population.)

To second what griphus said, White in this case usually meant Italian, Irish and mixed Eastern European first or second generation immigrants.

Manhattan: I attended Stuyvesant High School for a year. My class was mixed White, Asian and Latino. Black students made up a substantial minority.

So there's another data point.
posted by zarq at 2:22 PM on August 9, 2011


It may be that is a difference between the South and the rest of the US (or at least NYC) that is left out of discussions of diversity. Growing up in NC, no white person I knew identified with any particular ethnicity beyond white--no black person I knew identified with any particular ethnicity beyond African-American. Our ancestors had all come to the US more than a century ago (generally closer to 2 centuries), and nobody had any particular knowledge about what ratio of the many possible national origins made up their backgrounds. Somebody claiming that a nearly completely white school was diverse would be laughed out of the room anywhere in the South.

I'm still struck by the Voice's assertion that the non-"gifted" and charter schools are mostly black and latino. Do those meet your definition of diversity and are you comfortable with the status quo of pupil assignment? To me, schools like those in the article which find new ways to "increase diversity" are an obvious good. But I may just be approaching it from my own biases from growing up in a place where integration was the goal.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:29 PM on August 9, 2011


Manhattan: I attended Stuyvesant High School for a year. My class was mixed White, Asian and Latino. Black students made up a substantial minority.
According to this, Stuy is 65% Asian, 30% white, 3% Hispanic, and 2% black. So while the Asian and white populations may be very diverse, black and Latino students are massively under-represented. And here's a NY Times story from last year about a controversy at Hunter that stemmed from the fact that only 3% of the student body is black and 1% Hispanic. The article says that Hunter has significantly fewer black and Latino students than it did in the 1990s.
posted by craichead at 3:46 PM on August 9, 2011


hydropsyche: "It may be that is a difference between the South and the rest of the US (or at least NYC) that is left out of discussions of diversity. Growing up in NC, no white person I knew identified with any particular ethnicity beyond white--no black person I knew identified with any particular ethnicity beyond African-American. Our ancestors had all come to the US more than a century ago (generally closer to 2 centuries), and nobody had any particular knowledge about what ratio of the many possible national origins made up their backgrounds. Somebody claiming that a nearly completely white school was diverse would be laughed out of the room anywhere in the South. "

New York City is different. In some ways we're primarily an immigrant city. You can see this by the way newly arrived immigrants settle Queens, for example. As each wave comes through the borough, they settle in specific areas, then spread east over time towards somewhat more prosperous areas in Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Or North. Or Westward. But there's a definite progression, as each family tries to achieve their modern version of the American Dream, move out of an apartment, start a family and perhaps buy a house.

For these immigrant populations, cultural diffusion hasn't really set in yet. Many people are still speaking their mother tongues, and learning to adjust. The first generation of children born here serve a dual role, and are often torn between two worlds. Their parents may not speak English well, so they act as translators, and a bridge between cultures. The phenomenon of the first generation's experience has been thoroughly discussed in literature. But it also means that say, Asians aren't *just* Asians. They are broken down by nationality, because there are large populations, mini-communities or Koreans, mainland Chinese, Hong Kongese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese, etc., etc. And because they have been here for such a short period of time, they often think of themselves not as Americans first, but rather as whatever their "home" nationality is.

This has happened repeatedly in NYC history. And it's part of the immigration process. There is safety in numbers. This is why the Irish, when they came to this country, often went into police and fire work. And why Chinese immigrants often worked in laundromats or restaurants. Why Koreans opened bodegas, which had often previously been owned by Latins. Each came here, found their niches, were enveloped by their local, ethnic communities, and made a go of it.

It may take a generation or two of being ensconced for them to begin thinking of themselves as Americans first. To stop sending money home, and supporting their families overseas. To think locally, so to speak.

I've lived in a small town in the Southwest US. The experience was quite different. There was one Chinese family with children in the entire town when I lived there. And Jews were unknown to the larger population. The Whites kept separate from the Latins (who were mostly Mexican) and there were few African Americans. And yes, ancestry didn't matter as much amongst Whites. Religion mattered a hell of a lot more. People will find ways to separate themselves and "Other" those who are different in all kinds of circumstances.
posted by zarq at 4:02 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Growing up in NC, no white person I knew identified with any particular ethnicity beyond white...

Over here it is pretty much the exact opposite: very few people identified as white. I remember meeting someone in high school, for the first time, who wasn't either an immigrant, or the son/grandson of an immigrant. I asked him where he was "from" -- a pretty standard question in the neighborhood I grew up in; everyone was from somewhere -- and he could pretty much recite his lineage by quarters and eighths. Most other people I met who weren't "from" anywhere were usually the children or grandchildren of people who moved to New York from the south or midwest. One of the strangest and yet most obvious realizations I've had is that, of all the people I was surrounded by growing up, it was the black individuals who were most "American", generation-wise, and who could trace their ancestry back through America longer than any "white" person I knew.
posted by griphus at 6:42 AM on August 10, 2011


So, yeah, I acknowledge that difference in how diversity could be discussed when talking about all-white schools. But what's the difference between NYC all-black schools and all-black schools anywhere else? Segregation of that sort used to be considered unconstitutional and ended by court orders. These days, we talk about it a lot in places like Kansas City and more recently Charlotte since the original Swann decision was struck down. But I don't think most people realize it's going on in New York. I certainly didn't.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:57 PM on August 11, 2011


« Older He calls it simply “the project”.   |   Way across the maps and seas Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post