The distance between nations has diminished exponentially over the past few decades. How so? Through globalization, technology and the evolution of travel. But while jumbo jets can take us from dinner in Los Angeles to breakfast in Australia, young American students are not taught from a young age to engage within a global space.
I’ve always been fortunate enough to travel and live abroad. The experiences have broadening my horizons, shaped my worldview, and taught me that our education about global issues is lacking.
America has one of the best education systems in the world, giving students the choice to study multiple fields and choose their own paths. But we often fail in providing students with the global context they need to truly understand their world.
Syria Deeply’s founder, Lara Setrakian asked me to coordinate a new education initiative called Teach Deeply, addressing that need. Today, we’re very proud to launch our first project, Teach Syria. It’s a simple tech-savvy solution for increasing foreign policy education in our nation’s schools, in partnership with IAmSyria.org and President-Elect Steve Armstrong of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) as an Advisor.
Over the next three weeks, you’ll see further Op/Eds on Syria Deeply from our partners. And over the next few years, we intent to apply our model to other topics. It’s designed to educate, inform and engage the millennials who will shape our future. Join us — and them — on this journey.
Explaining further is Carl Hobert, founder and executive director of Axis of Hope, a nonprofit which teaches young people about conflict resolution on an international and local level.
The United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have died in Syria since the country’s war began 22 months ago. Many experts say that the bloody civil conflict, which has now spread over the Lebanese and Jordanian borders, has posed increasing challenges to collecting accurate data about the full extent of civilian casualties.
But when will there be collection – and widespread discussion – of other data? Namely, why and how we as educators fail to effectively teach “intelligent” American students about the languages and cultures of an Arab country like Syria?
If we are to help other countries prevent future conflicts, the U.S. Department of Education must begin at once to improve global literacy in K-16 classrooms, from sea to shining sea, moving from a focus on standardized examination scores.
First, we must focus on more than French, Spanish, Russian and German courses in our nation’s schools. We must begin to make the teaching of Arabic a top priority across the United States.
A thoroughly-researched report from the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World – “Changing Minds, Winning Peace: A New Strategic Direction for U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World” – indicated a widespread U.S. problem of “inadequate language competency” in Arabic among Americans [RIGHT?].
The events of September 11 poignantly demonstrated to us that American isolationism (in which I’m including a minimal understanding of Arabic) left our nation vulnerable to threats made by other societies, threats that we often misunderstood – or overlooked completely – because of a startling lack of knowledge of Arabic.
Mandarin Chinese the world’s largest language in terms of native speakers. But Arabic is in fifth place after English, Spanish and Hindi/Urdu, and by 2050 it could rank equally – to or pass – English.
We must allow our students the in-depth study of Islamic cultures. We must look beyond American and European history, and include in our schools’ curricula a more profound study of the Muslim world, including the Koran, the Ottoman Empire, the history of the Taliban and al Qaeda, and Islamic fundamentalism.
We must take students to visit area mosques so that they might meet Muslim members of their own communities. We should invite area college professors who are Islamic specialists to speak to our school communities, as well, offering their expertise on the Muslim world. All school-sponsored Washington, D.C. trips should include a visit to the Egyptian, Jordanian or Saudi Arabian Embassy, as well.
We must engage United States students in dialogues with students from Arabic nations, via traditional pen pal programs, e-mail chat groups, videoconferencing, Facebook and Twitter, so that our students may practice their Arabic and so that they may learn more from their peers about the Arab world.
We must encourage our students to travel and to study in Arab countries during their high school and college experiences, to place them in closer contact with Muslim communities. Such well-established study abroad programs including School Year Abroad (SYA), the American Field Service (AFS) and Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) could provide valuable experiences in the Arab world to U.S. high school and college students each year, well beyond the comfortable confines of their often-isolated, often anti-Arab domestic classrooms, dormitories and living rooms.
My memo to all U.S. educators and parents: connect the dots between Syria’s bloody civil war and the spillover of this complex conflict into neighboring countries.
When will we begin to realize that the United States is starved for basic knowledge of the Arab world, and that we have built barriers of communication between the United States and countries such as Syria for decades?
When will we realize that we must move away from rote memorization that characterizes traditional education in this country, and move toward more creative, “Intellectual Outward Bound” experiences that teach our students more about the Arab world – in their own classrooms, and using technology to enhance the experience?
We must teach our future leaders to communicate with, comprehend, compromise and coexist more effectively with Arab nations beginning today.
(Hobert’s latest book, Raising Global I.Q.: Preparing our Students for a Shrinking Planet, will be released in February by Beacon Press.)