Can you really take religion out of a religious school? That was the question on many minds when seven D.C. Catholic schools went charter last fall (and when NYC Catholic schools pondered a similar strategy this spring). Now a similar question is being asked about a proposed Hebrew-language charter school in New York City: Can you really have a public school based around a religion-steeped culture--minus the religion? Unlike the Catholic conversions, the Hebrew Language Academy (HLA) will not have to remove icons from its walls or subtract religious classes from its schedule. But it must wrestle with how to teach character and culture without an over-reliance on God, the Torah, or the Talmud. School founder Sara Berman explains that the school simply aims to offer students "a great curriculum and a great way to learn Hebrew." But others expect HLA to spell trouble for (expensive) private Jewish day schools, now that Jewish parents will have a (free) alternative that they can supplement with (low-cost) religious instruction after hours. Such competition isn't unhealthy; furthermore, Gadfly isn't much bothered if the lines between religious instruction and public schools get blurred a bit more. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the Constitution permits publicly-funded vouchers to support religious schools. It's but another half step to allow parents to choose publicly-funded religious charter schools, too.
"Hebrew Brouhaha," by Thomas W. Carroll, The New York Post, May 29, 2009
"Why Pay For Religious Schools When Charters Are Free?," by Erica Schacter Schwartz, Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2009