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In exploring changes in the classroom since the 9/11 attacks occurred a decade ago, one notable development is growth in the teaching of Arabic as a foreign language. To be clear, it's still rare in comparison with most other languages, but the study of Arabic has been gaining ground in U.S. schools, in part with federal assistance.
I reported on this development in a recent story pegged to the 9/11 anniversary, but wanted to expand on the topic here. (With the anniversary only days away, I've been blogging on issues connected to 9/11, whether directly or indirectly.)
In my story, I featured a Chicago public school, the Lindblom Math & Science Academy, which offers only Chinese and Arabic. Most students there take Chinese, but about 200 are in the Arabic classes, the principal Alan Mather told me. Like others, he emphasized that, as with any language instruction, learning a language invariably also includes some cultural issues as well.
When parents ask him about why the school offers Arabic, he explains: "We're heavily involved in the Middle East and North Africa. The more we understand about the language and culture, the better off we're all going to be."
Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is no current national data on how widespread K-12 instruction in Arabic is in U.S. schools. But several experts assure me that it is growing. And they do see a connection between that increase and the events of 9/11, both because of heightened interest among educators and students in better understanding the Arab world and language and because of the launch by President George W. Bush of the National Security Language Initiative in 2006. . . .