by Joe Nathan
Many Minnesota parents might share some of the provocative views some Somali American and Oromo (Ethiopia) parents presented last week.
In a wide ranging meeting, about 30 men and women said they strongly support some, and strongly oppose other freedoms that their children are encountering in America. Their reactions have helped guide the schools their children attend.
These parents, most of whose families came here in the last decade, respect and admire our freedoms to select schools, careers and government leaders. Many of these parents had professional jobs in Africa, and are bringing their talents to local companies and organizations. But they reject things that also trouble many American parents. These African-American parents do not want their children to be part of a melting pot that:
• promotes disrespect for parents, educators and older people
• highlights negative images of women in movies and music
• allows some students to make negative, disrespectful comments about conservative clothes that young women wear
Sound familiar? Readers also will agree with the strong desire these Somali and Oromo parents at the Twin Cities International Elementary and Middle Schools have for their youngsters to excel in school.
Parents also want students to retain and respect aspects of their culture. 97 percent of the students at these two schools, with total enrollment of 900, do not speak English at home. 93 percent of them are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch. Families say their children are ‘in good hands” in these schools.
As one mother put it, this school “helps my children stay away from getting lost.” Parents with older children who had not attended either of these schools described some of them as “no-where,” or “not sure who they are — neither African nor American.”
The Twin Cities International Elementary and Middle Schools are charter public schools. But that is less important to the families than several features of these schools:
• There is a bi-lingual aide for every two classrooms. Some aides speak not just two, but three or four languages or dialects.
• The school helps young people learn about American history, government, culture etc. It also includes and honors parts of African culture.
• The school serves food that respects the Somali and Oromo traditions.
• The schools are relatively small. Families report that their children feel safe (a key aspect of many small schools I’ve written about in the past).
• Administrators are bi- or multi-lingual.
• The ability to communicate immediately with educators means for some parents, that their children are not classified as “special education or handicapped” students at the Twin Cities International Schools, as had happened in some district public schools.
• Academic achievement is constantly honored.
• Parents learn immediately — in their own language — if students misbehave or do not complete assignments.
• An evening program is helping many parents learn to speak English.
Our best public schools help youngsters learn about this country, while retaining respect for where they have come from, be it Ireland, Italy, Sweden or Somalia. Twin City International Schools seem to helping hundreds of youngsters learn to use American freedom wisely.
Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota.