With my last post about Brooklyn’s controversial Khalil Gibran International Academy in mind, I couldn’t help but notice recent headlines on a Hebrew charter school in Florida and Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. As I discussed last Friday, the primary objection to the Khalil Gibran International Academy was the threat of extremist Islam and pro-Arab sentiments being encouraged. Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood, Florida faced concerns that the study of Hebrew would lead to an unconstitutional promotion of Judaism. But the school has been allowed to continue its course of study, which, like Khalil Gibran, includes the same core curriculum as other schools in its grade level with added emphasis on language and cultural studies.
In Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl has proposed converting eight of its Catholic schools into public-funded charter schools because the archdiocese can no longer support the schools financially. The conversion would ensure that the schools’ students would have an uninterrupted education. However, the schools would cease to be Catholic, which means the character, though not necessarily the educational quality, of the schools would be lost. The anxiety over the switchover, again thanks to the separation of church and state, leaves me wondering: could the soon-not-to-be Catholic schools integrate culture in a similar way as Khalil Gibran and Ben Gamla?
Of course, the curricula of those schools are driven by language study. Islam’s associated with Arabic, Judaism with Hebrew, and Catholicism with… Latin. Latin is definitely not on Bush’s list of critical languages (although aspiring academics should still study it). But with so many Latin American and African countries having large Catholic populations, perhaps Spanish, Portuguese, or an African language could be similarly promoted. Studying these countries, most of which are developing, would tie into values such as charity that Archbishop Wuerl hopes secularity won’t erase. And because the history of Catholicism still wields global cultural and political influence, it’s worth studying through a secular approach. If public schools have given cultural immersion in Judaism and Islam a go, a similar educational structure for Catholicism doesn’t seem far-fetched. It would only widen the trend of specialized public education.