Which foreign languages should public high schools offer their students?
Are there some that might be more useful to learn than others? I think you could make a strong argument that Mandarin Chinese and Arabic belong in high schools and administrators would be doing students a favor by offering those courses.
At Daphne High School in Alabama, the sole French teacher retired last year. Instead of finding a replacement, the administrators went in a different direction: They decided to hire Sanaa El-Khattabi to teach an Arabic class:
Alan Lee, superintendent of the Baldwin County school system, said Daphne High, with an enrollment of about 1,400, includes students from 30 countries, and that offering Arabic is one of many ways that the school keeps an international focus and helps its graduates prepare for the global economy.
“If you look at the languages of the world, Arabic certainly would be one of the languages that I would want my own child to learn, because of the opportunities it would provide” in terms of careers and paths of study, Lee said.
That makes insanely good sense. Yet, instead of praising the decision, residents of the community and parents in the district are reminding us that ignorance is still an obstacle to obtaining a world-class education. They’re making an argument that teaching Arabic is somehow pro-Islam and anti-Christian:
“This is America, and English is our language, and while I understand the alleged premise of offering Arabic at our high school, I don’t agree with it,” said Michael Rife, who lives in Daphne. “It is not just another language; it is a language of a religion of hate. I’m concerned about our taxpayer dollars going to fund such a program, because I don’t believe it has a lot of foundational value.
“It just concerns me that we’re headed down a path of further eroding our society to a Muslim-based society, or Sharia law (the moral code of Islam), and I’m not willing to let that happen without … something to say about it.”
“They’re trying to indoctrinate our children with this culture that has failed,” [parent Chuck Pyritz] said. “… Why should we want to teach our kids a failed culture when we have a culture that has been successful? All we have to do is follow our Christian culture, which has brought this nation to the pinnacle of success. … I don’t see why they would want to teach this.”
That literally makes as much sense as arguing we shouldn’t teach English because it’s the language of Scientology.
You would think these anti-Islam (or is it anti-Muslim? I don’t think they know the difference) parents would understand how understanding Arabic — and the culture of the countries in which it’s spoken — could be the key to a lot of future jobs in politics, intelligence, and economics. Hell, if the stereotypes are true and these opponents are pro-war and in favor of increased defense spending, then they should be fully supportive of this offering. This could be seen as a chance to communicate with Arabic speakers… for the purpose of defeating the evil-doers.
But the thick fog in their minds is clouding their judgment:
“If they want to speak their language, that is their privilege in this country,” [Daphne resident Donna Rife] said. “But don’t silence another voice, such as Christianity. … We are not a Muslim nation, and yet they’re trying to bring this kind of nonsense into (schools). I am absolutely against it.”
Rife was also disturbed, she said, about the possibility of her grandchildren studying Islam. “It’s a great concern to me, because they’re being indoctrinated with this,” she said.
“Arabic leads right into the Muslim teaching, and that is where the danger is and that is what I am absolutely against,” she said. “Let them teach that in their mosques — but keep it out of our schools.”
I don’t say this often, but the Alabama administrators are doing the right thing. They’re offering the courses because they’re in the best interest of the students. So far, El-Khattabi’s three Arabic classes are full, with 25-30 kids each.
No one tell these parents about the origins of algebra or else the math teachers are going to have to waste a lot of time answering idiotic emails.
Incidentally, there was controversy at a Colorado high school earlier this year when students from a cultural diversity club recited the Pledge of Allegiance, in Arabic, over the loudspeaker. Because pledging allegiance to America in another language is somehow anti-American.
(Image via Shutterstock — Thanks to Lauren for the link!)