I am a son of Newton, Massachusetts. I graduated from Newton South High School in 1971. My parents lived in Newton from 1956 until their deaths a decade ago. My brother still lives there, and I visit the city regularly.
I am well familiar with the harmful bureaucracy that was the Newton Public Schools (NPS) back in my day. And I don’t trust NPS and its simple-minded acolytes any more today than I did back then. They may be well-intentioned, but their knee-jerk defenses of the Newton schools’ wrongful behavior makes them unreasonable and uninformed.
Groups of Newton Jews have been engaged in a running dispute with NPS over its embrace of a radical anti-Israel agenda that for a generation included the use of the Saudi-funded propaganda text The Arab World Studies Notebook. Liel Leibovitz over at Tablet magazine has produced an excellent summary of the now eight-year struggle against NPS’s often intransigent and biased school committee members, administrators and teachers.
Fortunately some Newton Jews have sued both the Newton schools and several of its most flagrant Israel-defamers. The lawsuit Dechter v. City of Newton School Committee was filed in Massachusetts District Court in the spring of 2019. It is now working its way through the court system. That can take years. Think of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Dickens’ Bleak House.
Newton’s lawyers are hopeful that they will be able to throw the suit out on jurisdictional grounds which have nothing to do with the underlying facts of the case. And perhaps they will succeed. I don’t know. But the struggle will not end. This is Newton—partly Jewish Newton. In my day Newton was forty percent Jewish. My high school Newton South was mostly Jewish.
Newton has two main high schools, Newton North and Newton South. An unrelated example of the slovenly manner in which NPS performs its duties is its construction of two new Newton North High Schools over a thirty-year period, its declaration of the first new building to be unfit for use in complete contradiction to how Massachusetts schools are supposed to be amortized, resulting in its demolition of its architectural masterpiece and the construction of a second new Newton North High School at a cost of 197 million dollars.
Most of the kids, both Jewish and Christian, I grew up with in Newton have moved away. The people who moved in after us were less often Jewish, so today Newton may only be twenty percent Jewish. But that’s enough. Newton’s teachers have picked the wrong place to promote Saudi-funded texts and films from the Boston Palestine Film Festival (with no Israeli film to counter it.).
Newton’s Curriculum on Islam Serves a Religious Purpose
It is bad enough that NPS is promoting anti-Israel bias. But even worse is that it is also promoting a particular religion, in this current case Islam, in violation of the US Constitution. That brings back memories for me. I am old enough to remember forced New Testament readings in the Newton Public Schools. My fourth-grade teacher Miss O’Toole at Angier Elementary School in 1962-1963 announced that since half the class was Jewish and half was Christian, she would read to us from the “Old Testament” (ie, the Hebrew Bible) half the time and from the New Testament half the time.
NPS in its infinite wisdom can claim that it is now merely teaching people about Islam, but according to Dechter v. City of Newton School Committee it is in fact ordering some kids, depending on the teacher, to pretend to be Muslim and to engage in Muslim rituals. Such requirements show a clear religious purpose, particularly since it is unlikely that these same kids are also required to perform Pentecostal Christian or Jewish or Catholic rituals. And even if NPS did force kids to pretend they were going down to the river to get “washed in the blood of the Lamb” that would be wrong too. So would forcing kids to hold a mock seder or take make-believe communion.
The text of the almost 500-page lawsuit against both the Newton schools and some of its officials and teachers is available online. It makes for enlightening reading. It cites a 1992 ruling of the US Supreme Court in the Lee v. Weisman school prayer case that: “in the hands of government what might begin as a tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce.”
In this case, the government is the Newton Public Schools, and it is high time that residents of Newton did something about it. Relying on Newton school administrators to do anything on their own is pointless. One will wait forever.
Unfortunately, eight years of dilatory and evasive maneuvers demonstrate that NPS administrators such as School Superintendent David Fleishman in their smarmy manner will first promise to do something and then take no effective action. All they want is for the complaining members of the public to go away.
Perhaps NPS administrators think Newton taxpayers are interfering in the education of the taxpayers’ children. Who knows what these administrators think?
All NPS does in public to respond to complaints is to wave the banner of the greatness of the Newton Schools and its highly skilled and intelligent staff who are supposedly eagerly waiting to serve their students. Defendants Fleishman and Bedar even claim that opposition to the teachers is taking time away from educators doing their jobs. As if!
What many Newton Jews are in fact demanding is that the defendants spend more time DOING their jobs and remove offensive and unconstitutional material from their curriculum. Why is that too much to ask?
If the lawsuit against the Newton Schools goes to trial then these administrators will have to explain the following. All of this information is taken from Dechter v. City of Newton School Committee:
One reading assignment obtained in the Judicial Watch Production from the North ninth-grade world history classes is represented to students as an excerpt “from an introductory college-level textbook on Islam,” thereby indicating to students that the text is objective. Under this guise of objectivity, however, the assignment, excerpted from the book, Islam: The Straight Path, contains simplistic and demeaning characterizations disparaging the Christian and Jewish religions as “falsified.”…The text states that “after the falsification of the revelation given to the Jews and the Christians, God in his mercy sent down His word one final time.” The statement is never qualified as a theological belief, but is presented as fact.
Or consider the following gem from the same Newton North assigned reading:
Arabic is the sacred language of Islam because, in a very real sense, it is the language of God. In contrast to Judaism and Christianity, whose Scriptures were not only translated into Greek and Latin at an early date but also disseminated in vernacular languages.
First of all, Jews have rarely translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin. The Catholic Church has. That has nothing to do with Jews.
The canonical Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible is not based on any Greek or Latin or Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible. Translations existed. They were called targums. If NPS seriously believes that the Masoretic text is based on targums then it should show that is so with a reference to a reliable source.
I don’t know how the New Testament was written. I doubt it was based on translations, although parts of it may have been for all I know.
Attacking the New Testament without evidence in an assigned reading is bad enough. But for good measure NPS is denouncing the Jewish Bible too.
And who says that the claim in the assigned reading that Jews and Christians use corrupted Bibles is even a tenet of Islam in the first place? It sounds like a tenet of the official Saudi-government form of Islam. What on earth is it doing in the NPS curriculum?
I will tell you what it is doing there. NPS is incompetent. It is incompetent when it comes to building schools, and it is incompetent when it comes to building curricula. That is the truth. The truth hurts some residents of Newton and some NPS employees. Too bad. The “critical thinking” that NPS prattles about should include a willingness to consider that one might be wrong.
NPS and its teachers should leave the Christian and Jewish Bibles out of their praise of the alleged textual purity of Islam. If a text contains denunciations of non-Islamic religions, then NPS should not be assigning it, and certainly not be describing it as a college-level textbook.
I could go on, but I am up against my self-imposed word limit on blog posts. Thank you for staying with me this far. I will continue my critique of the Newton Public Schools Middle East and religious curricula next time. Believe me, there is much to criticize.
And as for the Newton schools, hear me well: You don’t boogie-woogie the King of Rock and Roll, and you don’t stonewall the Newton Jewish community!