The Michigan Leadership Institute was commissioned by Dearborn
Public Schools to look at a variety of issues. The independent education and
municipal consulting group came back with a 44-page report addressing
overcrowding, test scores and academic achievement.
It also suggested that the use of the Arabic
language should be limited. The suggestion wasn't so much for students, but for
teacher and staff conversations.
Dearborn is home to the largest Arabic-speaking
population in the United States. Many Iraqi immigrants have settled and continue
to settle there.
When students first come to school, they often
speak little or no English, so the district provides bilingual education until
they become proficient.
Brian Whiston is the district's superintendent. He
says reports that Dearborn schools are banning Arabic are incorrect. The idea,
he says, is to be inclusive:
"So let's say that there's two staff members, me
and another staff member, sitting in the office, and we're both talking in a
foreign language - that we shouldn't do that if we both understand English,
because it's not fair to the other people who walk in and out of the office, who
may not understand what we're talking about," Whiston says.
Imad Hamad, the senior national advisor with the
American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Detroit, sees it differently. He
believes that suggesting when people can speak in their native tongue may be
based on bias:
"I'm afraid they are maybe politically motivated
or politically tainted, and I don't understand why they debate about the Arabic
language, per se, while other languages are not being debated," Hamad says.
Kevin Harris used to teach economics at Fordson
High School in Dearborn. Now he's president of the Dearborn Federation of
Teachers. He does not see the recommendation as a ban on the
Arabic Language. He says he says it's unsettling to walk into a room where
adults are speaking a foreign language, and don't acknowledge you:
"I think human nature is, if you don't understand
something, the assumption is that they're talking about you. I think it tends to
put people who are not familiar with the language in an uncomfortable position,"
Imad Fadlallah is Fordson High School's principal.
He says he doesn't agree with the way the recommendation is being interpreted,
and agrees that students and staff should speak primarily in English.
But he explains that many of his students were
born during the first Iraq war, were displaced, lived in camps and ultimately
came to the United States with little or no education, and face considerable
challenges. Hearing teachers and other adults in the district speak in their
native language makes the students feel more comfortable, and accept this as
"They may end up in Minnesota, and they find their
way to Dearborn. They mayt end up in Texas, and they find their way to Dearborn.
Because they feel in Dearborn, at least there is somebody that speaks my
language, I can communicate with, and hopefully, I'll melt into the melting
pot," Fadlallah says.