Yes and no to American freedom

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by Joe Nathan, 2/17/08 • 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% of the students at these two schools, with total enrollment of 900, do not speak English at home. 93% 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 City 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.

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