Washington, Asharq Al Awsat- The U.S Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings entered a classroom where an Arabic lesson was taking place, greeting the class with the Arabic phrase, “Salam Alaykum”. She visited Annandale High in Fairfax, Virginia, with Congressman Tom Davis who represents the county, some other senior officials from the Department of Education and from Virginia, as well as journalists from newspapers and television networks.
In the classroom, the U.S Secretary of Education read a statement addressing George W Bush’s National Security Language Initiative that would allocate 22 million U.S dollars to teaching Arabic, Persian and Chinese in American schools, 188 thousand dollars of which will go towards expanding Arabic and Chinese classes. Spellings stated that the decision was based on the fact that “China and the Middle East have now become a new American market for exchanging products and ideas.” She added, “We want to learn other languages because it says, ‘we’re interested in you, we want to learn about your culture.”
Congressman Tom Davis stated, “We live in a global economy so whatever is taking place now in China or the Middle East is no less important to what is happening the United States. This is why we want our students to learn the languages of these regions so as to be able to compete with others.” Davis highlighted the developments that have taken place since the 9/11 attacks and the American interest in combating terrorism and protecting national security. He said, “We have problems finding enough people who know these languages who could serve in the diplomatic, military and intelligence sectors.”
An official from the local government said, “Teaching Arabic will be introduced in other elementary schools and high schools in this constituency other than Annandale High.” He added that in the near future, the county would establish a website to teach the Arabic language whereby a teacher from one of the schools that offer Arabic classes would deliver a virtual lesson so that all parts of Virginia can have access to learning the language.
Laith Abu Talib, a 16-year-old student from Annandale High, was born in Jordan and came to the United States with his family at a young age where he attained U.S citizenship. He told Asharq Al Awsat that he had forgotten most of the Arabic language after arriving in the United States; therefore, he wants to make the most of the new programs. He said, “I want to become a doctor and go back to Jordan, therefore I need to have knowledge of the Arabic language so that I can talk to my patients.”
Paula Patrick, the foreign language coordinator of Fairfax schools stated that half of the students who are learning Arabic are non-Arabs and that the experience is new so there would be some difficulties before Arabic is taught as a second language in America.