Fort Worth, USA - We have all heard about the value of learning another language. Knowing a second language can open doors, make one more marketable, especially if that language skill is applicable in today's global dynamic. As an added bonus, learning language can also broaden one's cultural experience.
It appears those benefits may have escaped the rationale of some parents in Texas. The Mansfield school district in Texas has canceled some Arabic classes after nearly 200 parents showed up at a meeting on the proposed curriculum, with some terrified that their children would be taught about Islam.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the program, which is funded by a federal Foreign Language Assistance Program grant, was to also cover Arabic culture, government, art, traditions and history as part of the curriculum (similar to the Spanish curriculum already in place). But it's been put on hold for now:
We had people who were animatedly fearful of anything to do with Islam [said one school official]. Others want their children exposed to everything. Others who say, We teach about Christmas, why not other religions? All cultures and major religions are taught throughout the state.
One parent told the paper that some parents were upset that their children were learning about the Middle East.
"We don't want to discriminate against the entire Middle East," she said, "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."
Another parent argued that, "The school doesn't teach Christianity, so I don't want them teaching Islam."
"The federal government sees Arabic, Chinese and Russian as critical," said district spokesman Richie Escovedo. "Our country has a deficit in Arabic speakers and people who understand the Arabic culture." It's no secret that key federal agencies perennially face a shortage of Arabic speakers.
The school district has posted a statement promising that "There are no 'mandatory Arabic classes' as being falsely reported in the media." Some Arabic classes will be offered as electives for now while the district gets more parent input.
First, no one's teaching the religion; they'd be teaching about it, if even that.
Second, if you see Arabs and Islam as "the enemy," it would seem wise to learn about the language and the culture. If you're going to insist that you're in a fight, don't you want to take the measure of your opponent? It's what Sun Tsu advised in his treatise, "Art of War."
9/11 isn't easily forgotten but one gets the feeling that this same sort of curriculum in New York or Washington --where 9/11 actually happened-- wouldn't be regarded as a big deal.
In a way, these parents are actually fighting to decrease their children's education. It's like lobbying for ignorance.
This country has always had a deeply anti-intellectual streak in its public discourse, but over the last 30 years, ignorant people have gone from sullen resentment of educated people to active pride in their own lack of knowledge.