Feb. 8, 2011
Well, just when you thought you had heard it all comes word see the news story from Mansfield, Texas, a city located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that students at four local intermediate schools will be taught Arabic. The students at two schools will be required to take Arabic whereas it will be optional for the students at the other two.
Mansfields school district successfully applied for a federal Department of Education (DoE) Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) Grant. DoE identified Arabic as a language of the future. From some internet searching I was able to determine that Spanish, Chinese, and French are three other such languages. According to the news story only a handful of FLAP grants were awarded last year.
School officials said that the federal grant "provides culture, government, art, traditions and history as part of the curriculum." Given the tight integration of Islams religious tenets into every facet of Arab life that may be easier said than done. Furthermore, the breadth of this part of curriculum could easily be distorted. What will the courses teach about shariah law, for example?
What seems particularly obnoxious here is that the students of two schools will be REQUIRED to take Arabic which is a pretty exotic language choice aside from the political implications after 9-11. Having an extra option could be fine, but a mandate might interfere with the plans of the child who can only take one language and wanted to study French, for example.
That said there may not be a constitutional problem here. Clearly, schools can require a student to take foreign language classes. But can it only require one choice? And, can it require the students to take a language whose accompanying culture may be deemed hostile to American values by some of the students or their parents? A parallel case might be if Mansfields schools had required students to take Russian in 1980 during the height of the Cold War.
It has been clear in our constitutional law since the 1920s that a State cannot forbid foreign language instruction (Meyer v. Nebraska (1923)), but this is a different question.
These days there are objectionable sex ed curricula that parents dont seem to have a constitutional right to keep away from their children. So, it may be that parents in Mansfield may have to change the school policy at the ballot box when they elect their school board.
What we dont know from the story is why the Mansfield chose Arabic and not Spanish or Chinese if a more exotic language were desired. China is certainly going to be a greater economic power in the future. Does this school district have a large Arabic-speaking population? If so, the decision would then seem to be more like a form of political correctness and an attempt to force a foreign culture on American families.
A prediction: Arabic will soon become only optional in the two schools for which it is now being mandated.
Drudge just posted red flash text that the school district is backing off the Arabic requirement. No news story though.