Friday, September 4, 2015
Despite an angry outcry from far-right protesters, Houston is embracing an Arabic immersion school that educators hope may give students an edge.
Except for the angry protesters, the first day of school at the Arabic Immersion Magnet School in Houston in late August was a joyous occasion. The school welcomed its inaugural class of 88 kindergartners and 44 pre-kindergartners with an assembly in the cafeteria.
The kids wore their school uniforms, green-and-white polo shirts embossed with the school’s calligraphic logo. They learned their new school song. They recited the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge. Alicia Kahn, whose 5-year-old daughter Maiara attends the school, described the mood as “positive and upbeat.” Outside, though, she said it was “mayhem.”
A small crowd organized by the anti-immigrant group Stop the Magnet had gathered near the school entrance for the “Houston Patriots Protest.” Waving signs and American flags, the protesters shouted their message at entering parents. “Forcing a child to have to speak Arabic should be against the law,” one protester yelled at a woman pushing a stroller with a kindergarten-age kid in tow. Another protester held a sign reading, “Everything I ever cared to know about Islam was taught to me by Muslims on 9-11-2001.”
Parents and faculty were not entirely surprised by the rude welcome. At a May 2015 HISD board meeting, they got a dose of what some people think of the country’s first public Arabic immersion school. It wasn’t pretty.
About a dozen individuals took to the podium to give mini-lectures on the dangers of Islam and the need to prioritize English-language education. “I’m a proud monolingual American citizen,” said a middle-aged man, Phil Cady, reading a prepared speech from his cellphone. “I believe it is wrong to teach babies Arabic or any other language before their reading and writing in English is proficient.” Elizabeth Theiss, founder of Stop the Magnet, directed her anger at the board: “It’s a disgrace, all of you are anti-American.”
Though the school, which plans to expand to fifth grade, hasn’t received any direct threats, administrators aren’t taking any chances, employing a security guard to keep watch during school hours.
Parents are taken aback by the anger and the protesters’ apparent belief that the school is part of an attempt to establish a “multicultural caliphate.”
“That is one thing that’s scary,” said Kahn, “because you see these sort of American fundamentalists who are very anti-anything that has anything to do with the Middle East. … It’s really a shame that that needs to be a part of the conversation.”
But Kate Adams, the principal of the Arabic Immersion Magnet School (AIMS), doesn’t dwell on the vitriol.
“Anytime you’re doing something that’s trailblazing and different” there will be critics, she said. “Even in a regular plain-old vanilla school.” And AIMS is anything but vanilla — something Houston has largely embraced.
The majority of students are Texans with no ties to the Middle East or Arabic language. Read Full Article