Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Mansfield ISD wants to teach Arabic in schools
Not surprisingly, some parents aren't pleased.
MANSFIELD UPDATE: Star-Telegram says the district has "backed off plans" to teach Arabic at select Mansfield ISD schools. The superintendent apologized for not keeping parents in the loop.
Mansfield ISD wants to teach Arabic in the classroom, and parents are upset! Parent Baron Kane told CBS 11, “The school doesn’t teach Christianity, so I don’t want them teaching Islam.” Others in the angry audience at last night’s meeting with the school superintendent voiced similar concerns and one parent pointed out it’s not even letters (she gestured), just squiggles! Full disclosure: I attended Mansfield ISD schools through all of my elementary school years and part of my junior high years, including one of the schools, T.A. Howard Middle School, where Arabic would be “mandatory.” Obviously, the demographics have changed in the last 16 years since I was in junior high, but not the xenophobic attitudes, apparently. Just a note to Mansfield parents, the English alphabet looks like “squiggles” to Chinese speakers, Turkish speakers, Russians etc. Yet, many children in those schools are required to learn English. My husband, who is fluent in Arabic, was required to learn English in school. Now, he’s bilingual, can read and write classical Arabic and English, and his job opportunities far exceed those of his Anglo counterparts who barely grazed through four semesters of Spanish in college.
Mansfield has indefinitely suspended the program (for which they received a $1.3 million FLAP grant (not a good name for the program BTW)) following the outcry from parents. Parents argue they should have had more input. But Mansfield ISD doesn’t need parent input, the parents need cultural sensitivity training! From the reaction of some of the parents, you’d have thought Mansfield ISD was setting up terrorist training camps in the classroom. And since when is English the only language spoken by Christians? Have any of these Mansfield parents ever heard of Lebanon? There are Christians there. Lots of them. And they speak Arabic! And there are plenty of non-Christians, atheists, Jews, who speak English, too! Yes, I’m talking to you Mr. Kane and half of the commenters on the CBS 11 page! And P.S., much of the language, math, and medical knowledge we know today originated in the Arab world. (I learned that in school!)
To be fair, I might be sensitive to this subject because I struggle so much with Arabic. I only see squiggles! I went to the Middle East last year for a month and walked around blind and silent, unable to read even the simplest signs. And yet street vendors and impromptu tour guides in Cairo easily spoke up to five languages. The same in Petra. And Yemen. It was a very humbling experience. There I was, the privileged educated American woman, pointing, head shaking and occasionally miming to order a simple can of soda! Most people I came across there don’t have formal training, but they understood (as Manfield ISD does) the importance of knowing foreign languages. And Arabic is one of those languages that is more sought after. Arabic translators in the Army can make up to $100,000+ a year. If that’s not patriotic American, I don’t know what is? And even Christian missionaries learn to speak foreign languages including Arabic because it helps them communicate their message. Are they then heretics? Hate to break it to the good Christians in Mansfield, but the language of the Bible wasn’t in English to begin with! It was Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. And Jesus had to speak multiple languages including Hebrew and Aramaic.
But what’s more troublesome is the underlying xenophobic tone of the discussions in Mansfield. Arabic=terrorist. Arabic=Islam. Arabic=my child will convert! I wonder what would happen if they started offering Yidish classes to Jewish students! Parents are OK with Spanish (because they can see the need for it). And other school districts offer Chinese, German, French etc. Many times, the demographic of the student body has something to do with the language offered. "The idea is to embed Arabic culture in all facets of the school day — from discussing the Arabic roots of the word 'algebra' to serving a Middle Eastern dessert at a class party," reported WFAA. See? No terrorist training skills. Just baklava and maybe hummus. And lots of parents understand the benefit of foreign language skills, especially those in the workforce where knowing another language is vital for promotion and growth. Most of us get it. The world ain’t speakin’ just English! But, hey, if Mansfield ISD parents feel the need to keep their little scholars ignorant of any language other than Christian, American speak, then they should have the right to pitch their tents of ignorance around their children. But Mansfield isn’t Babel, and whether parents like it or not, those bricks are falling!
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