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26th February

First Published in The New York Sun, February 26, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

About this time last year I received an unexpected invitation from the Fieldston School to participate in a panel discussion on progressive education. Fieldston is bastion of progressive education and was conducting an assembly program for its students in the spirit of self-examination.

One can be sure I wasn’t called as a supporter of their teaching methods. I have developed a reputation as a vocal critic of the progressive pedagogy Fieldston favors. But I was told that the school wanted to have its students hear all sides of the issue, even questioning the central philosophy under which their school is organized.
I accepted the invitation. I was impressed that Fieldston would be willing to allow debate over a subject so central to its belief system.This is why I was surprised to hear of the controversy over the now cancelled forum on the conflict in the Middle East.

While debate was encouraged over how classroom learning is organized at Fieldston, the same ethic was clearly not at play when the school decided to hold this forum about the Middle East. Following the politically correct ethic prevalent on college campuses, Fieldston opted for two views from the Palestinian Arab camp, none from the Israeli side.

A Long Island University professor, Muhammad Muslih, was to speak in favor of a “two-state solution,” while Mazin Qumsiyeh, identified as an associate professor at Yale, was to promote a “one-state solution.” It turns out that Mr. Qumsiyeh is no longer at Yale, but once taught genetics at the Yale Medical School.

Mr. Qumsiyeh has come under scrutiny for positions so extreme they enraged many Fieldston parents and, presumably, alumni and donors as well. But the question that must be asked is how and why the forum was planned in the first place. It seems an attempt by some at the school to convey to the students, idealistic and impressionable, only certain points of view.

If it was the parents, alumni, and donors that were successful in getting the plug pulled, good for them.They are doing what the parents, alumni, and donors our universities inexplicably failed to do. It is sad that those who can afford to make choices for their children squander this privilege.

That ideology is promoted that tolerate attacks against the civilian population of a democratic nation that holds western values and humanistic ideals so prized at the Fieldston School and the Ethical Culture Society that spawned it, boggles the mind. This is not the first instance of an attempt to influence the students of Fieldston.This claptrap has already been promoted through coursework and assigned readings.

In an interview with the Riverdale Review this past Friday, Adam Dale, a sophomore from New Jersey,charged that assigned readings during previous summers tilted toward the Palestinian point of view. Mr. Dale said that promises to balance the readings with others that took a more pro-Israeli point of view during the school year were forgotten, despite the concerns expressed by some students.

In 2002, high school students were assigned “Martyr’s Crossing” by Amy Wilentz, described by the school’s then-director of diversity, Hugo Mahabir, as telling the “story of a tragic border crossing which leads to the intertwining of Israeli and Palestinian lives caught in the grip of a terrible conflict that leaves no one innocent or untouched.” The middle school book, “Habibi,” by Naomi Shihab Nye, was touted by Mr. Mahabir as “the story of a Palestinian-American girl’s return to her parent’s birthplace and her adjustment to a new and different culture.”Where is Leon Uris when you need him?

Lest younger students at the Fieldston Lower school feel left out of the celebration of all things Palestinian, principal George Burns noted in an article in the school’s newsletter in May, 2002, that “it’s been very exciting this year to join our families of Palestinian decent as they shared the food, music and dance of Palestine in both kindergarten classes.”

Parents of children at Fieldston and other independent schools who value diversity and free speech must demand that concern extend to the state of Israel, which shares, not disdains, the Western values of America. If parents use their power to choose and contribute to those schools that do promote those values, no excuses need be made should Fieldston find itself short of funds.

There is now loud grumbling on the Fieldston campus about restrictions on freedom of speech. According to published reports, the announcement of the cancellation of the Middle East forum was made by Upper School principal John Love at an assembly on gender roles held last Thursday. Perhaps Principal Love might want to demonstrate his commitment to free speech by continuing that dialogue with an emphasis on the treatment of women in the Arab world?

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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