By Marvin Wingfield
ADC Director of Education & Outreach
ADC Times (August-September 1999)
Many Arab-American parents are deeply involved in their children’s education. This is one of the surest ways to guarantee our children’s success in schools. Parents help their children learn to read, oversee their homework, advise them on their term papers, meet regularly with their teachers, and become active in PTA and other school committees. Such action by parents conveys the message loud and clear to their children: “Education matters. We care. We are with you when you face problems and difficulties.” Research shows that children’s educational achievement is higher when parents are actively engaged in the educational process.
Parents who are involved and known by teachers and administrators are also in a position to respond more effectively to incidents of cultural sensitivity by school staff and to distortions, biases and omissions in textbooks.
ADC stands ready to assist parents. Our program of Reaching the Teachers provides lesson plans to teachers and parents who wish to give presentations on Arab culture to their children’s classes. We can provide consultation, advice and resources on Arab-Americans and the Arab world national office staff cannot do it without you. We depend on our members as the eyes, ears, hands and heart of ADC. There are 12,000 locallycontrolled school districts in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands of teachers who need to learn more about Arabs and Arab-Americans. We depend on our members to reach out into their own communities and schools. When parents speak up, educators listen.
Many Arab-Americans have found ways to make a difference in their schools.
An elementary school student in Chicago found a book in the school library that had a dehumanizing passage saying, “The Arab has a tail.” Parents complained and the book was removed.
When “misunderstandings” between an elementary school student and his teachers in Texas caused difficulties, ADC provided materials on cultural sensitivity to Arabs and Muslims to his sister to give to the teachers to make them more aware of the issues behind the misunderstandings.
A group of parents in Frederick, Maryland, testified before the School Board and met with the Superintendant regarding the avoidance of student testing on Islamic holidays. ADC advised them and provided educational materials. They arranged a highly successful training workshop with Audrey Shabbas, which “captivated” the 65 teachers attending. The parents in the new school year on the Superintendent’s promise to close schools on two Muslim holidays and hold teacher in-service training programs instead.
In Boston, a parent alerted school administrators to the lack of diversity and need to include Arab Americans in an anti-prejudice program.
A mother in Weymouth, Massachusetts, donated the Arab World Studies Notebook (500 pages on lessons on Arab culture) to the school system administration and asked them to purchase copies for every school.
An Arab-American teacher in the Bronx reported that her younger sister came home from school with misinformation on the Arab world and was repeating “blatant racist remarks” she heard in her history class. The teacher provided corrective informational material to the school and offered to lead a teachers’ workshop.
Educators are usually highly interested in learning about new resources to enable them to do their job in a more effective and professional way. There are many excellent resources to offer or recommend to teachers. The other education articles in this issue provide information on resources and opportunities to get involved and describe the work of ADC members who are making a difference in their schools and communities. Imagine if every ADC member influenced one teacher, one school.
By Marvin Wingfield