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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Khalil Gibran school curriculum

Since there are more questions than answers about the Arabic-language public school opening in Brooklyn, here is where to find the details, with links so you can form your own conclusions.

The only subject that has a new curriculum is Arabic language. All the other subjects - math, history (humanities), science, reading - are typical 6th grade public school topics. The high-level curriculum can be seen here.

The Arabic curriculum is described this way:
All students will take a basic introductory Arabic language course that meets 3
times a week and is supplemented by small group instruction 2 additional
periods a week.

This is an introductory course designed primarily for non-native speakers and
differentiated based on student experience with Arabic and other language
study. It will begin with alphabet, phonetics, basic introduction to the language
framework, and will continue to include reading, writing, speaking and listening
in Arabic.

There is no NYC 6th grade curriculum for the introduction to Arabic.
Teachers who were trained at STARTALK, a federally funded
professional development program at Michigan State University, are
designing the curriculum.

In the initial phase, materials will be created by curriculum teachers
based on samples and resources provided by the Arabic Language
Instruction Professional Development Program at Michigan State
University. As students develop proficiency, they will begin to use the
Scholastic My Arabic Library

(http://www.scholastic.com/aboutscholastic/worldwide/mepi/english.htm).
The library is a set of translations of English language stories into
Arabic.

http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/lote/ (NYS Learning Standards for
Modern Languages other than English)


On first glance, the Scholastic Arabic program seems to be fine - the My Arabic library is described as "a set of translations of English language stories into Arabic." If this is true, then there should be no worries about indoctrination or glorifying any problematic parts of Arabic culture.

The Scholastic Arabic site describing My Arabic Library adds a couple of details that one will not find in the English sites:(autotranslated)

It "class library" prepared for the first year until the sixth basic education.

The library includes one thirty to forty interesting titles and five copies of each title, as well as the teacher guide and posters.

These books have been chosen by Arab educators and specialists and translated in the Arab world and ratified by the ministries of education in each of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Lebanon and the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Kingdom of Morocco.

The list of books in the library seems innocuous enough, including The Cat in the Hat, biographies of Amelia Earhart and Louis Braille, a book about volcanoes and a "Mystery at the Museum" - pretty much the same kind of thing that American classroom reading classes have been using for decades.

From looking at this, assuming that the stated curriculum is adhered to, I cannot see anything dangerous about the school at this time. The school seems to be appropriately transparent in its studies and as long as it stays that way - and as long as it does not become a substitute for private Arabic schools - it should not be any more problematic than Spanish or Chinese charter schools. But because the potential downside is so large, it should certainly be observed carefully.

There are still many unanswered questions. While the curriculum does not talk about Arab culture, the Executive Summary of the school emphasizes the cultural aspect of the school. That is the part that we have not heard enough about. It appears that the school will stray into political topics in the ninth grade, and this has the potential of being a disaster.

Another question is what the orientation of the Arab American Family Support Center might be (it is the "Lead Partner" for the school), as they are the initial Arabic-language instructors since there are not enough teachers who know Arabic in the New York public school system yet.