Doubling Down on Ignorance: Arabic Classes Axed From Texas School Curriculum02.10.11
In another case of knee-jerk decision making, the Mansfield school district in Texas quickly ended their curricula that would teach Arabic language and culture in K-12 classes because local parents raised concerns over the spread of Islam.
The notion behind this is absurd – that if we teach children about something, they’ll then take that knowledge and use it only for horrible things — or that if we don’t teach them about it, they won’t learn about. Because some people are promiscuous and catch diseases or get pregnant from unprotected sex, let’s just not teach our kids about it at all in school! (We know how well that works out.) Same goes for the Middle East, apparently.
But it’s just beyond ridiculous. As if kids don’t already learn about sex from other sources – usually completely false crap from their friends like you can’t get pregnant if it’s your first time and other random nonsense. And as if kids aren’t going to learn something about Arabic cultures through the news. Newsflash: we’ve been at war with two Arabic countries for the past decade, roughly the entire lifespan of your average fourth grader so I think they may already have gleaned a thing or two about those peoples. (And depending on which news source you frequent, it might not be the most accurate things, either.)
But do they know that Iranians aren’t Arabs, they’re Persians? Or that Iraq has inner turmoil between warring factions of two different sects of Islam – Sunnis and Shiites – as well as Kurds? Or that there are even small groups of Christians in the mix in both countries, too? Does teaching them that terrorists only compromise a minute fraction of a percentage of the overall Muslim population of the world endanger them in some way?
“We don’t want to discriminate against the entire Middle East, but [9-11] is hard to forget. They said they aren’t going to teach religion, but I don’t see how you can teach that culture without going into their beliefs.”
It’s just plain old bigotry and ignorance wrapped up to look like a genuine concern for safety. Should we not teach them about Ancient Greece because it’s impossible to teach about their society without talking about their religion? No more learning about the Parthenon, kids, since it was built as a temple to the goddess Athena.
The other decoy issue to distract everyone from the real reason of prejudice against Arabs is that somehow it’s unacceptable that these Arabic classes were going to be mandatory. It’s not even clear that this was even the case. Per the Mansfield school district’s website, there’s nothing mandatory:
There are no “mandatory Arabic classes” as being falsely reported in the media.
But, Cindy Henderson seemed to think otherwise:
“I don’t think we should spend all our time on one culture,” she said. “I think we should spread it around and be fair. I don’t like it being stuffed down our throats.”
I mean, if that’s the case then everything from algebra to the alphabet is “stuffed down our throats.” But, it does bring into question of whether foreign cultures are worthy of being mandatory classes in our K-12 curriculum. I, for one, think that yes, absolutely they should. I also think that there should be options.
When I was in middle and high schools, we had to take language courses, with the options of Spanish, French, or German – and then a couple semesters were offered of Japanese. Considering we’re going to be intertwined with the Arabic world most likely for the rest of our lifetimes, providing the opportunity for students to get a start of their culture and language in secondary education can hopefully only help our diplomatic endeavors in the future, perhaps leading to less military intervention. Sure, that’s ridiculously idealistic and I know that we aren’t going to be changing the minds of any extremists any time soon; but, that’s not the goal. The goal is to shift our own culture away from bigotry, away from xenophobia, and away from reducing vast groups of different cultures into the lowest common denominator of terrorism.
Simply not teaching children about an entire region of the world, especially one in which our country is already so involved and full of such stereotypes and false beliefs, will not protect them or us from the dangers of the world. We don’t rid the world of ignorance and negativity through burying our heads in the sand; we do it by collectively raising all of our awareness, so that we don’t base our decisions on fear and prejudice.