Thursday, May 24, 2012

Arabic Mandatory At NYC Public Elementary School

Students at PS 368- a New York public elementary school in Hamilton Heights (upper Manhattan)- are learning a new foreign language. Not French, not Spanish, not even Russian or Chinese. No, the 200 kids attending 2nd through 5th grade are being taught Arabic, and come September they will have absolutely no choice in the matter because then it will be mandatory. Right now the kids are taking afternoon classes during their free periods, but next semester it will be for 45 minutes, twice a week.

Why Arabic? Because the school principal, Nicky Kram Rosen, has her eyes set on receiving 'a prestigious International Baccalaureate standing.'

And no-one seems to mind.

“She proposed this to the parent association. They were very supportive,” said Angela Jackson, CEO of the Global Language Project, which is backing the initiative.

“Arabic has been identified as a critical-need language,” she said, citing students’ future “career trajectories.’’

“It means they can spin the globe and decide where they want to work and live.”

Even the kids don't seem to mind.

“I like Arabic class. I like the words we learn. I thought they sounded funny at first, now I think they sound cool,” said Nayanti Brown, a 7-year-old second-grader. “I teach my little sister the words I learn.’’

Nayanti said her mother was skeptical at first.

“When I gave my mom the [permission slip] to sign, she was shocked. [Now] she’s happy I’m in the class,” she said.

Bella Moon Castro, 34, of Harlem, signed her son up and is glad he’ll have a chance to learn Arabic.

“This makes the world smaller for the kids. It develops their confidence,” Castro said

Apparently it's a public "choice" school, meaning no-one is forced to attend, so this is how they are getting away with making Arabic compulsory. And what about those who might not want to learn Arabic?

If the school ever enrolls a student who objects to learning Arabic, administrators will deal with that on a case-by-case basis, Jackson said.

Mohamed Mamdouh is PS 368's teacher. He, of course, is delighted.

“Soon, Arabic will be a global language like French and Spanish. These kids are like sponges. It’s amazing to see their progress.’’

Mamdouh yesterday played a version of duck, duck, goose with the kids using the Arabic words for mother and father — mama and baba — for ducks and geese.

He also played a version of Simon Says where he would say a word or phrase in Arabic like, “ma drasti” — my school — and make a gesture like opening a book.

And soon those kids will be able to read and memorize the Quran.

Look, there's nothing wrong with giving kids the opportunity to learn a foreign language, even Arabic, but when it becomes mandatory then that's problematic.

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