Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

February 13, 2011

County Republicans condemn Mansfield ISD plan to teach Arabic

By Steve Knight/reporter3@trcle.com

— The Johnson County Republican Party this week passed a resolution condeming Mansfield ISD’s plans to teach Arabic and Arabic studies to its students.

Mansfield ISD recently received a $1.3 million five-year Foreign Language Assistance Program grant focused on the Arabic language from the U.S. Department of Education.

Johnson County Republican Party Chairman Henry Teich said that the problem here is that the district needs to focus more on teaching English and American history and government rather than foreign languages.

“The purpose in passing the resolution is that there is a decided effort to suppress the history of our own country. Now, we’re teaching everything but English,” Teich said. “This country is a melting pot of people and multiculturalism has been a failure in Europe. They’re beginning to find out that people that come here need to assimilate with us to become American citizens, not that we need to assimilate with them to become Arabic citizens.”

The district applied for this grant because the federal government listed the Arabic language as a critical language, said Richie Escovedo, the district’s spokesman.

“This means that our country has a shortage of Arabic speakers and there is a need for people who are not only proficient in the Arabic language, but also possess knowledge about its cultures and traditions,” Escovedo said.

The district backed off on its plans to implement the Arabic studies program after almost 200 people showed up with questions at a parents meeting at Cross Timbers Intermediate School in Mansfield on Monday night.

“Recent concerns have been raised by parents concerning plans for the curriculum. Some have raised questions and concerns about the district’s implementation of the grant,” Escovedo said.  “Mansfield ISD is slowing the implementation process and will be seeking input from parents in a variety of ways. We are working with parents and staff for the language curriculum development.”

Teich said there was also concern from its members about the grant requiring teaching Arabic culture as well as language in the schools.

“The main drive of our school system is to assimilate these folks whether it’s Latinos or people from Haiti or people from South Africa or people from Asia,” he said. “They need to assimilate into this culture so that we can live harmoniously together.”

Angela Cox, president of the Johnson County Tea Party, said that American taxpayers should not have to pay the bill for Arabic language and culture courses.

“The mere fact that they want to teach Arabic studies here in the United States — their culture, their government, their art, traditions and history — I think our school districts should focus a little bit more on our own culture, our own history, our own constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers,” Cox said. “If you walk up and ask a student, ‘Can you tell me what the second amendment rights are?’ they have no idea. And they want to start teaching Arabic? An atrocity is what it is.”

Mansfield administrators said in a statement that contrary to some media reports, the classes were not mandatory.

As part of language acquisition and development, the early grades would have elements of Arabic language within the framework of the state-mandated curriculum, but the district has stopped the curriculum-writing process for now.

The plan also called for students at T.A. Howard Middle and Summit High School to offer Arabic as elective courses to meet foreign language requirement, administrators said.

The FLAP grant was created to establish programs to address national shortages in languages including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, administrators said, and Mansfield ISD was one of five school districts in the country selected to receive the Arabic grant.

Programs related to the FLAP Arabic grant were scheduled to begin this semester at Cross Timbers Intermediate School and Kenneth Davis Elementary School and optional Arabic foreign language classes were scheduled to begin next year at T.A. Howard Middle School, but those plans have been placed on hold for now while the district seeks parent input, Escovedo said.

“Other people may have had other reasons for voting for that resolution, but my personal experience in life has led me to believe that we ought to try to work homogeneously with our own country and support our own system of laws and democracy here,” Teich said. “It is in the best interest of the children that live here that they learn English so they can assimilate and perform to their maximum in our country.”

Mansfield administrators said that parents will have full access to the written curriculum and will have opportunities for input prior to moving forward with the program.