A new school has opened up in New York City — a school whose purpose is to teach Arabic and the Arab culture to the public. The school has been seen as controversial, receiving negative media attention for being perceived as a breeding ground for terrorists. In response to personal attacks and slander, the principal has resigned from her position.
This situation is in fact a perfect indicator of why exactly such a school is needed in America.
According to the frenzy, there are several points of contention surrounding the school.
The first: does such a school have the right to exist in America? In order to answer this question one must ask oneself, what is a school and what purpose does it serve in society? Of course, the purpose of a school should be to promote education, which instills knowledge in order to make its citizens independent thinkers (or is it?).
The designated principal of the school, Debbie Almontaser, has been quoted as saying, "We are wholeheartedly looking to attract as many diverse students as possible because we really want to give them the opportunity to expand their horizons and be global citizens." If this school serves to create a just and more equitable society, why is it seen as such a threat?
The answer is quite simple: education propels knowledge and knowledge grants us the power to challenge "authority."
A school educating America on the Middle East is a threat because it will show Americans that the Arab world is not simply a place of fanatical killers. Education on the region will show that these are a people with a history, a culture and an identity, and perhaps, just perhaps, violence in the region is not going to promote peace.
For the Bush administration, though, this wouldn't do with support for the war already dwindling, now would it?
And should such a school be publicly funded? Let's take a look at the current-day public education we are funding. What areas of the world are we focusing on? Mind me, but all I see is our ethnocentric attitude reinforced with horizons not extending beyond the boundaries of the United States and Europe.
How is this education a fair representation of the world that affects us? If our tax dollars are going toward our education, why wouldn't we want to support an inclusive one that teaches us that there is a world that extends beyond ourselves, and one we can appreciate, tolerate and learn from?
Such questions must be thought of in a larger global framework. What is this strong opposition to the school saying about freedom of speech and race in our country? If our education is being controlled, how can we stand for a democracy?
This is not the first time that education on the Middle East has been scrutinized. Programs such as Campus Watch, founded in 2002 by Daniel Pipes, is a perfect example of the control the government is executing over our education system.
By cracking down on professors who dare to give their students a critical lens, the program is negating the purpose of what it means to be a citizen. What we're saying is that there are those people in our world who have the right to speak and those who don't. By silencing dissent we are promoting an ignorant, blindly abiding society that negates everything that the United States should stand for.