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ARAB AMERICANS IN TODAYS SCHOOLS

Arab Americans in Todays Schools


Morgan Lasota
ED 460
May 3rd, 2015

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

In American schools today it can be said that the majority of


enrolled students are Euro American and practice Christianity. This is a
somewhat broad generalization, because the percentage of Arab
Americans that practice Christianity over the Muslim religion is over
fifty percent (Hamdy 316). However, if a student doesnt fit this mold it
can be a challenge to be successful in American society. This is
relevant not only in the academic aspect of school, but the social
aspect as well.
Arab Americans and the Muslim religion in particular, carry a
very negative connotation, especially since the 9/11 attacks and
invasion of Iraq. It is clear that this minority religious group
experiences discrimination and fights for acceptance of their lifestyle
and beliefs. According to an interview with Karim Hamdy, Arab and
Muslim Americans are the least studied ethnicity, and the most
stereotyped religion (Hamdy 318). Whether this judgment takes place
subconsciously or not, it has a large impact on these students
everyday lives in and out of the classroom. Teachers can go further in
creating a more positive educational experience for these students by
becoming more educated on this religions history, their values and
beliefs, and the discrimination that takes place
Arab Americans are a diverse community and throughout the
past century they have assimilated to American society while also
staying in touch with their rich and abundant traditions and history. As

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

most immigrants do, Arab Americans came to the U.S in search of


opportunity, and because of the religious persecution that was taking
place in their homeland. As they traveled from the Middle East and
many places beyond, American culture was introduced to the different
perspectives and traditions that encompass Arabic lifestyles. Although
each family is different, this culture is known to be extremely family
oriented and roots itself in their relationships with each other (Arab
American National Museum.) These strong relationships provide a high
standard of morals and ethics among Arab Americans and aid them in
achieving success throughout their lives.
Along with healthy relationships and strong morals, Arab
Americans are committed to their education. Forty percent of this
demographic have earned a college degree, which is sixteen percent
more than that of the United States population as a whole (Hamdy
317.) Arab Americans clearly have a high standard for education and
the potential for success is great. There is an abundant amount of wellknown Arab Americans that have reached incredible heights in the
education world such as scientists, athletes and music historians such
as Casey Kasem, Selma Hayek and Tony Shalhoub. These people have
contributed to American society in huge ways and have overcome
some of the challenges that could have stopped them in the past.
Two large factors that influence an Arab American childs
success in school are the religious barriers, and misinformed teachers

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

and peers, which lead to negative stereotypes. These factors could


limit a student from reaching their full educational potential (AmericanArab Anti Discrimination Committee.) First, for the majority of this
culture that is Muslim and attends public American school, it is a
challenge to simply find ways to practice their religion. Most schools do
not attend to the religious and cultural needs of Arab Americans, or
even acknowledge them, therefore they do not provide them with the
classroom environment and materials that are necessary for them to
be successful. These are needs such as time for prayer, an appropriate
dress code, and enforcing the modesty that goes along with their belief
system. Although the number of Arab Americans that are enrolling in
public schools in the United States is increasing, the resources and
strategies to integrate their culture into the school system is not, and
until they do this demographic will be marginalized and stereotyped.
As children feel safer and more accepted in a certain environment their
academic success will increase immensely. This issue could be
prevented by providing the materials and space that these students
need to practice their religion and recognizing that others have
different routines and daily influences that they rely on to be
successful in their lives.
Another factor that leads to the discrimination of Arab Americans
are the misinformed teachers and peers that Arab students are
surrounded by at school. The various historical and current stereotypes

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

that some believe are true will lead to discrimination in the classroom.
By educating and finding reliable sources of information about the
culture and informing the other students with different backgrounds
about the practices of Arab people, this religious minority would be
much more widely accepted in schools across America. Additionally,
this issue could be addressed through professional staff development
days or classes (American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee.) Most
colleges and universities that are near elementary schools offer such
courses at little to no cost and would really benefit teachers in
effectively incorporating accurate information about Arab Americans
into their curriculum.
Furthermore, these students face extreme difficulty in their
social interactions. The diversity that these children offer the classroom
prompts a range of student interactions and relationships that can be
both negative and positive (Abo-Zena 2011.) One way that these
children can experience negative social interaction within a classroom
is through being a designated spokesperson for their specific religion or
culture. This can happen inadvertently when a teacher begins to rely
on a single student and puts them in the spotlight to inform the class
of the different aspects within that religion. It is dependent on the
student and his/her personality as to whether this is negative or
positive attention, but even so a teacher should avoid assuming that a
student is a certain religion and then rely on them for providing the

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

class with information. This can be harmful to a students confidence


and add social anxiety when interacting with their peers.
Social interaction plays a very large part in American schools
today, which in turn can affect a students academic success as well.
With this social interaction comes bullying. Unfortunately, research has
shown that since the 9/11 attacks, discrimination and prejudices have
become an integral part of Muslim youth lives (Abo-Zena 2011.) This
abuse can stem from the way a person dresses, or may just be an
assumption, which leads to a prejudice. According to an article by
Mona Abo-Zena, a negative pattern of thinking can begin to form in
Arab American students mind. For example, if a student needs to be
removed from an activity or situation because it does not align with
their belief system, they will then be isolated from the class, which
subconsciously makes their peers view them as strange because
they are not participating. Once this mindset is in place the isolated
student will then begin to feel doubt and shame toward their religion or
culture and will struggle in their desire to fit in. They will no longer
provide the diversity that could make a classroom successful and may
even begin to hide their practices. Ultimately in situations like these,
teachers are in position to either fuel the negativity or take a learning
opportunity and let every student grow from it.
Overall, Arab Americans and the diversity that comes with their
culture provide ample opportunity to expand on the American lifestyle

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

both in and out of the classroom. Just like with any race, religion, or
culture, it is important to remember that we all come from unique and
personal places and if every culture can learn to accept that, the
chasm in society that is filled with discrimination and judgment can be
replaced with love and acceptance. This is something many people
struggle to recognize because of the innate sense of self in the human
race; we need to look outside of our own culture with an open mind to
expand the possibilities of collaboration in and among all cultures and
races.
Through my research on the Arab American lifestyle I learned
both about the culture and myself as well. I found it extremely
interesting how family oriented this culture is. My family is very close
to each other and I have always felt that that is one of the main
reasons for my success in school and life in general. I believe that
because of the bonds and mutual respect between family members,
Arab Americans are able to be more successful. I also found that a part
of their belief is, The older you are the wiser you are (Hamdy 316.)
They respect their elders and I believe that is an integral part of
American society that is slowly diminishing.
Furthermore, within the different stereotypes and prejudices
that take place toward Arab Americans their religion is one of the most
negative. One of the most interesting facts that I found in my research
was that, sixty three percent of Arab Americans are Christian and only

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

twenty four percent are Muslim (Hamdy 316.) This is a prejudice that
is all too common within this culture and although the majority of the
United States practices Christianity, it is important to respect and
acknowledge the Muslim religious minority.
From an educational standpoint I learned that Arab American
children have much to bring to the classroom. There have been a
handful of studies that have found a positive connection between
religiously committed students and their academic achievement
despite the fact that American schools do not always capitalize on this
research (Abo-Zena, 2011.) This may be because the religion itself puts
a strong emphasis on learning and education in the young child or
even simply because educational skills are taught and reinforced
through religious practices. Skills such as memorization, oral reading,
and linguistic proficiency can all come from different religious
practices. Given the opportunity from knowledgeable teachers and
administrators and their accepting peers, Arab American students are
able to reach great heights in their academic achievement in American
schools.
I learned about myself throughout my research process as well.
I was not extremely familiar with this cultural group and was not aware
of the different stereotypes and discrimination that take place within
their culture. It was both challenging and helpful to start from square
one. It challenged me because I had so much to learn about this

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cultural group that it felt somewhat overwhelming at times, but it was


also beneficial because I had very little assumptions and previous
knowledge to be changed. This was a very beneficial experience to be
able to enlighten myself on a group of people that practice and believe
differently than I, from both a personal and educational point of view. I
am thankful for the opportunity to have learned and become aware of
the things I can do in my own classroom to make it a more accepting
and inviting environment for children that come from this background.
For example, creating a space and time for these students to practice
their religious beliefs throughout the day and also making sure that
they do not get singled out as the spokesperson of the Arab American
lifestyle in the classroom. The opportunity to learn about a different
aspect of the world other than my own, leads me to live more openmindedly and become aware of my own relationship with other cultural
groups in my classroom and also in my personal life.

RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

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Resources
Abo-Zena, M. M. (2011, December). Faith from the Fringes. Kappan
Magazine, 16-17. American-Arab Anti Discriminatory Committee.
(2002, April 14). Retrieved May 4,
2015.
Arab American National Museum. (2015). Retrieved May 3, 2015, from
ACCESS.
Hamdy, K. Working with Arab and Muslim Americans. In Working
Competently with
all Students (pp. 313-324).
Manning , M. L., & Baruth, L. (2009). Multicultural Education of Children
and
Adolescents. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc..