A School Steeped in Tolerance Adds a Course That Tests It

June 20, 2008

By SUSAN DOMINUS

As the president of her high school Peace Club, Claire Brennan does not like to fight. Even so, Claire, who will be a senior at Friends Seminary this fall, found herself in some impassioned conversations — let’s not even call them debates — this year, as she and some friends discussed what non-Western foreign language the school should add to its curriculum. The school, a small downtown institution, was soliciting suggestions from students and parents on whether Arabic or Mandarin Chinese would better suit its educational mission.

“If we start early enough, it really will be about the other and finding out about this part of the world that we’ve misunderstood in so many ways,”

“It was the talk of the whole school,” said Claire, one of a few students gathered in the principal’s office last week to discuss the issue. Claire, a lanky 17-year-old, had come down on the side of Arabic for obvious reasons — she is, after all, the president of the Peace Club — but she wanted to make it clear that her support for the language choice didn’t begin and end with world harmony. All along, she had agreed with her fellow classmate Christian Lopez-Balboa, who had pointed out in a classwide meeting with administrators that in five or six years, Arabic, not Chinese, might well be the more important language for those students who would be starting careers in finance.  Read more…

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