WHAT'S NEXT IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS?... TEACHING ARABIC?

February 9, 2011

I'm having some trouble here. Back when students had a more strict environment and focused on subjects such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, those students were the envy of the world. Then, decades of liberal experimentation in the classroom led to ever decreasing test scores and falling ranks among the world's industrialized nations. Now, a school district in Texas wants to alter their entire curriculum to embed elements of the Arabic language and culture throughout, and it's all part of a federal grant. Have we really lost our grip with reality? I want my kids to be able to do math, read, and write. Is that too much to ask?

As you'll see from this report, the school district in question is doing a quick "oops" and backpedaling on their program. But that's not even the point. The point is that the program was considered in the first place.

Here's the story: The Mansfield Independent School District was awarded a FLAP grant. The acronym (which is oh so appropriate) stands for Foreign Language Assistance Program. As noted in the press release explaining the "flap," Mansfield ISD was "selected as one of only five districts across the country to participate in the grant that provides Arabic studies."

Arabic studies include language acquisition, culture, government, art, traditions and history. MISD has been awarded a total of $1.3 million over a five year period to promote learning. Mansfield ISD graduates will possess the language proficiency and cross cultural communication skills to compete in the 21st century. Our students will be at an advantage in an increasingly diverse and economically global society.

The Mansfield ISD web site contains a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document about the planned Arabic program at their Cross Timbers Intermediate School. The documents states that students "will receive an average of 20 minutes per day of Arabic language and culture through social studies classes, advisory once a week and intermittently in electives such as technology applications, art and P.E."

If this doesn't sound strange enough yet, it gets better. Apparently, the district only let the parents know about the upcoming Arabic curriculum on Tuesday. Needless to say, there was some explaining to do.

The "flap" certainly caused an uproar, and now the Mansfield ISD web site has a new link dated February 8, 2011 with more information. That press release states that "recent concerns have been raised by parents concerning plans for the curriculum." The statement notes the following with their emphasis repeated below:

  • Mansfield ISD has slowed the process of implementation to get parent input for curriculum creation.
  • There are no "mandatory Arabic classes" as being falsely reported in the media.
  • As part of language acquisition and development, the early grades would have elements of Arabic language within the framework of the state-mandated curriculum.
  • In the K-6 grades (Davis Elementary and Cross Timbers Intermediate), the curriculum-writing process has stopped.
  • In grades 7-12 (T.A. Howard Middle and Summit High School), Arabic language will be offered as elective courses to meet foreign language requirement.
  • This project is federally funded for $1.3 million dollars over a 5 year period.

We can certainly ask ourselves a number of questions based not only on the FLAP grant but also on the response of the district. First, implementing the program in the first place just shows how off track our educational system is. Second, it was clear that the district had plans to do more with the program but only backed off after parent outrage.

What's interesting about the timing of this story is that on Tuesday, Fox News ran a story on how Catholic schools are "doing more with less." The schools spend less per student than public schools and get better results.

Students who attended Catholic schools say they were more disciplined and the approach to academics was more regimented. Bridget Ledford, who is a science major at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., says she doesn't think she would have gotten the grades she got in high school if she had attended a public school.

"There was a big focus on academics," Ledford said in an interview, emphasizing that she enjoyed the smaller classes.

Rather than focusing on bringing Arabic into our schools, how about if we focus on making sure American students can read and write English and do math? Or, another idea... if we want to bring in cultural lessons, how about American patriotism? Instead of taking out the Pledge of Allegiance, let's reemphasize what it means to be an American.


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