Monday, September 14, 2009

Ramadan Mubarak: A Blessed Ramadan

First--to any Muslim readers--may you have a Ramadan Mubarak, a blessed month of Ramadan.

I started this post a few weeks ago, intending to write about whether or not the Ann Arbor Public Schools are welcoming to Muslims--and what more AAPS could do. And now that seems even more relevant, following the incident at Skyline. I have no doubt that--whether it was the "fault" of the school district or not, whether the fight was ethnically/religiously motivated or not--the perception of the fight in the Muslim and Arab communities will be that it was related to prejudice.

So--did I mention that there are two schools in the county that cater to Muslim and/or Arab families? The Islamic Academy is a parochial school with something in the neighborhood of 100 kids; and Central Academy is a charter school with over 350 kids enrolled. Admittedly, not all of those kids come from Ann Arbor, but I do know that when Central Academy opened, the Ann Arbor schools felt the loss, particularly in a few schools. Parents vote with their feet.

And remember--every pupil lost=thousands of dollars lost to the school.

So--are we welcoming? My guess is that some AAPS schools are, and some schools aren't, but institutionally--I don't think so. (Part two of this post will be whether or not we are welcoming to Jewish students, and it's my perception as a Jewish family that the schools are not too welcoming to minority religions. In general.)

The AAPS has a calendar that designates religious holidays as 1, 2, or 3 star. (3-star are the most "important" holidays.) Guess what happens on 3-star Christian holidays, and sometimes even 2-star Christian holidays? [Yes--school day off.] How about 3-star Muslim or Jewish holidays? [School day on.] It is a lot more complicated. There are lots of holidays. And yes, I know that there are way more Christians than Muslims or Jews in town. But (if you go) school by school, there can be a significant number of kids who are from practicing families. I worked in a school on the southeast side of town where 1/4 of the kids in my classes were out on the last day of Ramadan. But another couple of kids attended school, because their parents felt conflicted about the students missing schoolwork. Any time parents feel that conflict, and have another option, they may choose to go to a different school.

There is also a point to be made regarding perception. Giving one measly day off--say, for Id al-Fitr (Muslim holiday), or for Yom Kippur (Jewish holiday)--makes the district seem more welcoming to parents who are nervous about being a minority in a majority world. Yes, it is agesture--there are still other religious holidays where observant students would have to take off from school. It's a gesture, but I think it is an important action--it is not strictly symbolic. And, it raises awareness that the holiday exists.

And how about those languages? What if the Ann Arbor schools were to offer Arabic? Would that be so hard? I would think it would attract more students.

Last--but not least--where, and how, are we educating kids about prejudice. . . discrimination. . . other cultures and religions. Yes, lots of things are happening--multi-cultural festivals--SEEDS program at the Neutral Zone going into middle schools--but the only time my kids have ever had specific exposure to (some piece of) the Muslim experience was when there was a Muslim in their class. And even then, it tended to be more of the 'chance exposure' and teachable moment than the sustained effort. What, exactly, do our teachers know about Islam? What do we teach the teachers?

Whatever we are doing--it seems like it is not enough. Can we do more?

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