“Speech Impediment” : Newsweek

Education: Speech Impediment

Lorraine Ali

Oct. 1, 2007 issue – Lost in the recent firestorm over the nation’s first bilingual Arab-English public school—the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., which opponents have argued will become a breeding ground for militant Islam—is the statistical truth that Arab-language programs are already on the rise. The National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC) in Washington estimates that the number of public schools offering full-time Arabic instruction for K-12 students has quadrupled from less than 10 in 2001 to more than 40 today. With enrollment up some 150 percent in university programs since 2001, the Department of Education is scrambling to meet the demand. Most of the growth in higher-education Arabic programs comes from non-Arab and Muslim students, says Kirk Belnap, director of the National Middle East Language Resource Center in Utah, an organization created after the 9/11 attacks and funded by the Department of Education. “Some kids do look at it as an employment skill,” says Belnap, “but most want to be engaged so they can promote East-West understanding.”

But not everyone is onboard. Though the Khalil Gibran middle school claims no religious affiliation—it takes its name from a secular Christian poet—an organization called Stop the Madrassa Coalition wants to shut it down. Its campaign attracted worldwide media coverage and successfully pressured the school’s Arab-American principal, Debbie Almontaser, to step down after she defended her interpretation of an intifada nyc T shirt popular with many local Arab women. “No matter how you slice it, a lot of this is about Islamaphobia or a fear of Arabs,” says Dora Johnson, project director of the K-12 Arabic Network at the NCLRC. “It’s not about how a language is taught. It’s about bias, and how do you deal with that?”

“Academia is well aware of these groups that try to create a sort of academic censorship.” ~ Mahmoud Al-Batal, Assoc. Prof. of Arabic, University of Texas

Many parents, students and educators are asking the same question, especially since the federal government is firmly supporting the notion of Arabic instruction in public schools. More…


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