Mansfield ISD will re-tool Arabic culture curriculum

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by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on February 7, 2011 at 11:05 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 7 at 11:26 PM

MANSFIELD — Mansfield ISD officials apologized to parents Monday night over a plan to teach Arabic culture in every class at one school.

Many parents said they hadn't been told about the mandatory curriculum change.

Parents and teachers packed a Mansfield ISD school cafeteria to hear learn more about why Arabic language and culture could soon be embedded in everything their children learn.

Veronika Webb is a sixth-grader at Cross Timbers Intermediate School. Her parents adopted her from Russia when she was three years old. She had to learn English, but her language challenges weren't over.

"She had to learn Spanish when she was in elementary school, and now they want her to learn Arabic," said Bobbi Webb, Veronika's mom.

The Mansfield ISD plans to use grant money to start a program that would look at almost every subject from an Arab perspective, but Monday was the first time they've explained it to parents.

"Our goal was to focus on the development of the curriculum before we actually rolled that out to parents," said Assistant Superintendent Lamar Goree.

Some parents are upset because no one has shown them what information will be taught under the program.

"It's a porterhouse steak that's been served up on a trashcan lid," said parent Mark Henderson. "We love the idea; we just want to be sure we're involved in its development."

The idea is to embed Arabic culture in all facets of the school day — from discussing the Arabic roots of the word "algebra" to serving a Middle Eastern dessert at a class party.

"I like the idea because a lot of people ... they assume everything Islamic or anything Arabic is terrorist," said parent Kay Hannun.

A major concern is that Arabic culture cannot be taught without including Islam, something Mansfield ISD denies.

"If it were up to me, it would just be Christian, but my student can benefit from learning different religions," Bobbi Webb said.

Hannun agrees. "Just teach the culture, how we are, because everybody has this stereotype, and I would like this to be erased."

The grant funds an Arabic language class that will start when Cross Timbers students start middle and high school.

For now, Mansfield officials say the program is on indefinite hold. They're starting this program over at square one — this time involving parents every step of the way.

We checked around to see what other districts offer.

Fort Worth ISD provides instruction in nine languages, everything from Chinese to Russian. Arabic is not one of the languages.

The Dallas ISD did not return our calls.

We did learn that a public charter school in Coppell offers Arabic. Manara Academy says there is a demand for Arabic speakers.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com

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