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Let’s freak out about learning another language

Submitted by on Thursday, 10 February 2011 4 Comments

For years Russian was the only foreign language taught at the high school I eventually attended. To my knowledge, no one during that era grew up and defected to the Soviet Union.

I took three years of Spanish. I neither immigrated to Cuba nor fled to join the Contras in Nicaragua.

Yet when a school in Texas wants to take advantage of a $1.3 million federal grant and offer an Arabic program at a high school, 200 people show up at a meeting. Not all of them were freaking out, but many were.

“We don’t want to discriminate against the entire Middle East,” one parent told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “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.”

Teach: To help students learn something.

Indoctrinate: To teach someone a set of beliefs so thoroughly that they do not accept any other ideas.

See? There’s a difference. Granted, it’s a distinction I don’t think the Texas school board would get, but I had held out hope for the rest of the state.

The grant that would have funded the Arabic curriculum was from the U.S. Education Department’s Foreign Language Assistance Program – no word if someone in Texas wants to eliminate that entire program. Probably, since it’s, well, foreign. Of all the grants awarded nationwide, only five have gone to Arabic program, according to the blog K12 News Network.

Gee, it’s not as if Arabic’s a strategically important language that agencies ranging from the State Department to the military are in need of. Someone should have told those folks in Texas that if this country can’t produce enough Arabic speakers to fill those jobs, the government will be forced to keep hiring “those people.”

Yes, the Texas program also would have covered Arabic-speaking countries’ culture, traditions and customs. Religion, even. But, again, telling a teen that Islam teaches X, Y and Z is not the same as saying, “you, too, shall live by X, Y and Z.”

It says a lot about the climate in this country that a Russian class taught during the heart of the Cold War barely raised an eyebrow, while an Arabic curriculum today raises a huge hoo-ha.

It’s sad that we’re so fearful of other people and ideas that parents who likely wouldn’t turn out for a school fund-raiser came out to protest the plan.

And it’s frightening that so many today confuse education – learning about the world, even parts of it with which we have disagreements – with indoctrination. I thought we were smarter and stronger in our own beliefs than that.

It’s tempting to call for parents in Texas to Stop Wasting America’s Time with their needless fears. But, then, by the time you include all the people who agree with them it would have to be the SWAT heard ’round the country.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Cynthia said:

    Great points! Need I point out that Richard Engel, the NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent who is doing all the remarkable reporting from the uprising in Egypt, speaks fluent Arabic. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5424809/ns/nightly_news-about_us/

    And he makes a healthy six to seven figure salary, I’m sure.

  • Debra said:

    He’s a fascinating guy – “He speaks and reads fluent Arabic, which he learned while living in the slums of Cairo after graduating from Stanford University in 1996 with a B.A. in international relations” -who clearly demonstrates what’s possible when you open yourself to new things. I don’t even think I would be willing to go from Standford to the slums of Cairo, but, my, what a learning experience. It’s also actually another great endorsement for immersion programs such as the one axed in Texas. You want to truly learn a language? Live it.

  • MtnMom said:

    But don’t y’all git that thim thar farin ‘ers is takin’ over?!?! (Please note the sarcasm.)

  • Debra said:

    Suddenly, I see the light! “They” are taking over, and those innocent Texans must be protected from them at all costs. (Please note additional use of sarcasm.)