[lg policy] You'll Never Guess What Foreign Language is Now Taught in the Bronx
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You'll Never Guess What Foreign Language is Now Taught in the Bronx
[image: Sasha von Oldershausen's avatar
18 hours ago
[image: you'll, never, guess, what, foreign, language, is, now, taught,
in, the, bronx,] You'll Never Guess What Foreign Language is Now Taught in
the Bronx Image Credit: Norwood
Students at a small public high school in the Bronx are doing something
rarely seen in New York City schools: they're learning Persian.
Sara Dingledy, the founder and principal of Westchester Square
wants "to make sure that kids who come here have the opportunity for some
transformative, personal experience."
But Dingledy's decision to implement a Persian language and culture class
at WSA was a practical, not a visionary, choice. The school's limited
budget forced her to hire only one teacher to be both a foreign language
and English as a Second Language teacher.
27-year-old Claire Rann fit the bill. "She could speak Persian," Dingledy
But that's not all. Rann has a master's degree in Iranian Studies from St.
Andrew's College in Scotland and can recite Iranian history with a fluency
few can match. Inside her classroom, however, Rann makes an effort to avoid
"I didn't want to lead off with that," Rann explained. "People tend to
latch onto the repressive stuff. I wanted to start with the other cultural
In many other ways, Rann's approach to teaching Persian language classes
defies the model of foreign language instruction commonly practiced
throughout the United States. Over the past century, nearly every
federally-funded language initiatives came out of a perceived political
threat. In the 1960s, the new language of choice was Russian; in the 1980s,
it was Japanese. Now, Arabic and Chinese are in fashion.
The National Defense Education
which passed in 1958 just after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik
rocket, inspired the spike in Russian language study ,which lasted until
the Soviet collapse. A component of the initiative, Title VI, defined
foreign language education for the first time in American history.
Title VI has changed over time, but targeting "critical languages," or
those crucial to U.S. geopolitical interests, remains its focus. The
current list includes Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Persian, Hindi, Korean, and
Urdu. These are among the languages that score "bonus
on the Foreign Service examination.
Shortly after the attacks of September 11, Congress allocated $140.6
million for a so-called National Security Language Initiative. Its purpose
was to "engage foreign governments and peoples, especially in critical
regions, to encourage reform."
Not surprisingly, Arabic survived and propelled a trend among language
programs in the United States. Since 9/11, enrollment in Arabic language
programs has increased dramatically. In fact, college campuses nationwide
have struggled to meet the growing student demand for Arabic classes.
These federal language initiatives only reflect moments of political flux,
while virtually all other education policy within the United States — the
No Child Left Behind Act, for example — turns a blind eye to foreign
languages, focusing on math and English instead.
By 2008, only a quarter of public and private elementary schools offered
foreign language instruction. It is no wonder that the United States is
woefully monolingual. Just 18% of Americans speak a second language. In
contrast, 53% of Europeans are billingual.
Angela Jackson, the founder of Global Language
Project<http://www.globallanguageproject.org/> (GLP), seeks
to reverse this trend. The organization partners with public New York City
elementary schools to establish long-term language programs to encourage
early learning. Her program targets disadvantaged elementary school
students in under-served communities, many of whom, she says, spend most of
their lives within a five-block radius. Jackson cites language as the key
that turns neighborhood kids into global citizens.
At a New York University colloquium last February, Jackson demonstrated the
potential of her immersion-based program. She played a video of a kindergarten
class singing in Arabic <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-NJksDKb8g>, a
language that earned the highest level ranking on the U.S. State
Department's scale of difficulty.
Meanwhile, in the quest for language acquisition and cultural
understanding, Jackson has confronted a different challenge. One of the
schools partnered with GLP, Harlem's PS 368, stirred controversy in 2012
after it decided to require all of its students to enroll in Arabic classes.
The resulting dissent was, in many cases, thinly-veiled racism. Right-wing
blogger Pamela Geller wrote, "Look what they are doing in Harlem in all
places. Do you think the children will be [taught] that blacks are referred
to as their *abid* (slave) and *abeed* (slaves) in Arabic?"
Jackson says the reaction only highlights the racial ignorance that still
exists in America. "It's so important that we do open the minds of our
students and our community," she says. "Arabic is one of the most spoken
language in the world."
But WSA's small Persian language class has managed to slip under the radar
of right-wing bloggers. And in most cases, parents, none of whom have a
Persian background, support the choice to teach Persian. "I know there's at
least two or three kids whose parents did not want them in the Persian
class, but then the kids actually pushed to stay in," Dingledy, the WSA
Dingledy hopes that in spite of the current tensions between the United
States and the Middle East, her students will be able to take a trip to
Iran. "I'm open to the possibility of finding a way to actually have them
go," she says.
"Maybe the student embargo is something that's lifted in the next four
years as things inevitably thaw. I sort of feel like it's going to thaw,
somehow. That's my goal so I guess I'm not deviating from that."
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