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In Which It’s Almost Too Confusing To Title

January 25th, 2009 2 comments

[Note – I started this before I broke my leg so it’s not a topical as it was]

The New York Times had an article about immigrant charter schools that pretty much made my head explode trying to wrap it around the ever deeper shades of what it says about America and the folks clamoring to live here.

Fartun Warsame, a Somali immigrant, thought she was being a good mother when she transferred her five boys to a top elementary school in an affluent Minneapolis suburb. Besides its academic advantages, the school was close to her job as an ultrasound technician, so if the teachers called, she could get there right away.

Her sons informed her that this was the way things were in America. But not in this Somali mother’s house. She soon moved them back to the city, to the International Elementary School, a charter school of about 560 pupils in downtown Minneapolis founded by leaders of the city’s large East African community. The extra commuting time was worth the return to the old order: five well-behaved sons, and one all-powerful mother.

The article goes on to talk about how some Muslim immigrants find the lack of morals in America problematic.  Their reaction is to set up their own communities that are more or less insular rather than risk the souls of their children to whatever the Muslim version of Hell is.  Thus, they find public schools breeding grounds of…well…vice and dissension.

In the case of the mother, it’s about control.  Actually, all parenting is about control.  Most parents would rather not raise children who run wild in the streets, break laws, get pregnant too soon or are regarded by the general populace as “bums”.  There are exceptions, of course.  Some parents can’t monetarily afford to monitor such things.  Some can but, in the name of “openness”, choose not to. (I’m thinking here about an upper middle class mother I met whose 15yr old daughter was openly doing drugs and dating well above her age bracket.  She was just fine with it.)

Confusing thing #1: Immigrants want to move here but can’t stand the culture.  I understand this completely.  I’m a card-carrying liberal and American “culture” is broken.  Or perhaps it never actually congealed to begin with.  We are a nation made up overwhelmingly of self-professed “christians” that don’t actually care about the religion.

[I know what that last sentence sounds like and you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’ve gone over to the dark side but I haven’t.  And that’s the confusing part.  There is a HUGE difference between morality and religion and they are NOT interchangable.  Religion generally exists as a structure for external rewards for doing the right thing and punishment for doing the wrong things.  conservatives want to paint liberals as immoral or a-moral.  That’s simply not the case.  At fifteen and twelve, neither of my daughters haven’t done drugs, drank, been arrested or gotten pregnant.  Raised presbyterian, I’d gotten two out of four and I just hadn’t gotten caught shoplifting.  And we haven’t raised our kids christian nor voted republican.]

Allah requires more from the believer than Jesus does.  Seven times a day v. once a week?  I’d think Allah was watching my every move, too.  Jesus, though, only guilt trips believers on Sundays.  For the rest of the week, they’re free to rob, rape, lie and pillage.  And so they do.  The article speaks of kids doing drugs, committing crimes and doing the whole baggy-pants thing but the author, who makes a lot of connections, misses something important – the mother seemed unable to keep her kids under “well-behaved” within the framework of public school.  Only through NOT integrating with the society they choose to join (ie – charter school) could she retain control of her kids.

That seems a little counter-intuitive.  I realize that we live in a fairly stable community with a low crime rate but this is far from an exclusively white suburban community.  Every year our elementary schools do a census that shows we have kids from 20-40 different countries here.  As one parent said snarkily, “the private schools can only dream of that diversity.”  So I think the charge of “white suburban privileged” can get tossed out.  Sure, we have the usual assortment of punks and ne’er-do-wells.  We know one family whose son got busted for smoking weed.  They weren’t happy about it.  But they didn’t blame the school to the point where they went private or charter.  I’m not going to claim that parents can have 100% control over their kids but school choice won’t solve the problem.

Confusing thing #2

Getting lost in America, Mr. Somo explained, means losing your culture, your language, your identity. It means acting like the teenagers the parents see on the street — wearing baggy jeans, smoking, using drugs, disrespecting elders.

As shown above, it’s just not a national truth that all America is a crackhouse.  But let’s say that it is.  Let’s say that moving your family to American means turning your back on your old way of life and offering your family to Satan in a red, white and blue top hat.  This brings up Bill Hicks four question – “Yeah? And? So? What?”

You make a massive life change and you want everything to stay the same?  That’s nuts.  You want all the benefits of America and none of the theoretical downsides?  That’s nuttier.  AND you want federal financing of charter schools to facilitate your detachment from the country you just moved to?

Again, I know what it sounds like – but I’m really not a wingnut.  The fact that wingnuts support financing charter schools – ALL charter schools including Muslim charter schools – is baffling to me.

This, then, is my liberal dilemma.  To tell you the truth, I tear up sometimes when everybody’s singing the Star Spangled Banner.  Stupid?  Maybe, but this fucked up country is my home.  I don’t say that in a “freedom isn’t free” way.  I mean that in a “I’m allowed to say ‘fuck America’ and not (generally) be carted away by my government” way.  I mean that in a “my country doesn’t censor web content like China or (amazingly) Germany” way.  Everyone is welcome here.  But what winds up happening is NOT the melting pot of old where you started out in your ethinc enclave and the whole point was to move away but to establish a permanent Minnestani or Calimexico.  And why?

To protect themselves from the influence of America.

It’s not a right/left issue.  It’s so much deeper than that.  The problems immigrants want to protect themselves from are not political.  People don’t come here for the politics.  They come here because for some odd fucking reason they STILL believe the streets are paved with gold.  You might frame immigration to the US in terms of “greed” or simply “wanting a better life”.  Take away the morality, though, and it’s about money.

And, to wrap this up, it’s about risk free money.  It’s about getting the benefit while keeping yourself and your loved ones as far away from the risk as possible.  Muslim charter schools, christian charter schools – both want their agendas of separateness publicly funded.  Neither want to join the wicked, wicked world but are willing to benefit from it.

And what’s more American than that.