Immersion schools are a great way for kids to learn a second, or even third language, that they might not have had the chance to learn otherwise. Here in southern Louisiana, French immersion schools are big thing, allowing local kids to learn both the French language and culture. These children get to interact with people from Quebec, France and other parts of the world that speak French. This is especially useful in the oilfield business, as the industry often sends workers to job sites in countries where French is the primary language spoken.
The Houston area is home to a number of Arabic speakers, and students who reported speaking the language at home more than double those who speak Vietnamese (another culture quite prevalent in the metro area). It would make sense then that the Houston Independent School District decided last year to open an Arabic immersion school in addition to existing schools that teach foreign languages, where students would spend half the day learning in English, and the other half in Arabic.
Well, apparently about thirty grown men and women saw this as some sort of invasion by Muslim extremists, or part of a plot by President Obama to convert Houston’s precious Christian offspring to Islam.
Protestors outside HISD’s new Arabic Immersion Magnet School. K/pre-K students will spend 1/2 day learning in Arabic. pic.twitter.com/YED70Q9qgf
— Adam Bennett (@AdamBennettKHOU) August 24, 2015
This reaction is typical of the short-sighted, xenophobic and paranoid outlook many right-wingers have on life. Many Arabic speakers also aren’t Muslim, just like a lot of English speakers are not Christians, or complete morons like these protesters.
Also, the language is spoken across much of Northern Africa and Western Asia, including the countries of Israel, Jordan and Turkey – all of which are strong American allies. Even if these kids were to grow up and join the military, they would be in high demand as translators. The same thing is true for careers in law enforcement and the intelligence field, a skill the FBI has stated they badly need potential recruits to possess.
You would think that people who claim to be so very patriotic, pro-law enforcement and pro-military would want FBI agents and service members to have the ability to speak one of the languages that some of the people they’re terrified of also speak. Right? Wrong.
Via the Houston Chronicle:
Protests marred the first day of class for about 132 kindergarten and pre-K students at the Houston Independent School District’s new Arabic Immersion Magnet School.
Shortly before 8 am, almost 30 adults spread along the fenced perimeter of the Heights-area school, waving American and Israeli flags while touting protest signs.
“Everything I ever cared to know about Islam was taught to me by Muslims on 9-11-2001,” one sign said. But officials said most students were inside the building once protesters assembled.
This is the first semester of operation for the Arabic Immersion Magnet School, one of the first of its kind in the country, where students study half of each day in Arabic and half in English. It follows other HISD immersion school projects, which HISD hopes to expand. (Source)
Houston is the capital city for the U.S. oil and gas industry, and they already have a number of immersion schools that teach languages like Mandarin with little or no controversy whatsoever. If parents want their kids to be able to compete in the changing global market, being able to speak languages like Mandarin, French, Spanish or Arabic isn’t just about understanding cultural diversity, it’s a very smart investment in a child’s future.
If America wants to remain a world leader, it is absolutely critical that our children not only receive the best education in math and science, but also in foreign languages. In other parts of the world, including much of the Arabic-speaking area, it is considered a mark of intellect and education to be able to speak other languages, especially English. When stories like this make international news, we shouldn’t be surprised when extremists seeking to radicalize others point to them as proof that Americans are ignorant and hateful too.
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