Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Conclusion to Minneapolis school investigation

The Minnesota Department of Education has completed its investigation into whether the Tarik ibn Zayad Academy charter school in a suburb of Minneapolis is really a madrassa. It finds nothing in the school's curriculum that violates laws precluding government establishment of religion in public schools. It did direct a couple of changes that the school agrees to make (something about a prayer service on Fridays, and having buses available so kids can leave before a voluntary after-school activity is over). The school was cooperative with the investigation.

It was appropriate for Kersten to draw attention to this school; it was not appropriate for her to paint the school as nefarious and to write with an attitude that this was an outrage that the wacky liberal Dept of Education doesn't care about, asking "Why does the Minnesota Department of Education allow this sort of religious activity at a public school?"

There are a couple of interesting footnotes to Kersten’s story. The substitute teacher, Amanda Getz, who constitutes Kersten’s gotcha-gotcha eyewitness proof of the school’s nefariousness, is a Republican activist. Not that Republican activists can’t ever be reliable, but her affiliation with the party does raise the specter that Getz’s observation and reporting to Kersten (and apparently not to the Department of Education) wasn't as devoid of political agenda as Kersten would have readers believe. Here is more on that.

Further, Kersten’s piece relied on a freelancer’s report of what he saw at the school. He complains that Kersten mischaracterized his observations, and that what he observed was not an Islamic school.

Kersten's attitude toward the Department of Education is fascinating to me. She was faced with what she believed were facts about the school engaging in inappropriately religious practices. Instead of postulating, "maybe the Dept of Education doesn't have enough resources to police its schools well enough", she instead postulated "the Dept of Education doesn't care about schools engaging in Islamic practices; it only cares about stopping Christian practices". In so manner ways, in so many moments we are all confronted with situations where we have a few data points of information and, seeking to paint a full picture, we fill in the blanks with our imaginations, colored by our past experiences, our fears, our prejudices, our hopes. We all do it. It's human nature. It is not, however, journalism.

[Update 1: Here's a link to the MN Dept of Education's report.]

[Update 2: Adults at the school (school officials?) apparently assaulted a local TV camera man while he was filming the students.]

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