Arabic is spoken in twenty countries across two continents by over 400 million people, more than five percent of the world’s population. It is #6 in the top ten list by percentages. In the United States, there are more than a million Arabic speakers and it is the fastest growing language group here. Arabic-speaking countries figure large in the world economy and their job growth exceeds our own.
European and Asian schools commonly offer Arabic as an option for their students, an option that prepares them for the world moving forward. But only 2% of US universities offer it, and even fewer public schools. Where it is taught in high schools, it is commonly challenged and protested by local taxpayers (for obvious and awful fear-based reasons).
When Daphne High School in Alabama replaced their retiring French teacher with Sanaa El-Khattabi, an Arabic teacher, a group of parents protested the school, calling it ‘a language of a religion of hate’ while threatening the teacher. Apparently, they saw no irony in that. But the school stood its ground, and Khattabi’s classes are entirely full, three times a day.
Americans already have a reputation of being obnoxious mono-glots who demand that everyone around the world speak English when it’s not even our official language, only our common one. It’s a huge visible gap in our education. Foreign language proficiency isn’t even included in the ways we rate our schools and it’s been gradually falling off of college requirement lists. It is the academic equivalent of closing our borders and refusing to look outside. A population that cannot communicate with the world cannot keep up with it.