The first day of school at Houston’s Arabic Immersion Magnet School: What could possibly go wrong?

Recently, the Houston Press ran this story by Jef Rouner about the first day of school at Houston ISD’s Arabic Immersion Magnet School (AIMS for short). I won’t quote the whole story here, however this paragraph serves as a rather nice summary (complete with the original mild profanity):

HISD has opened its first Arabic-immersion magnet school, and Houston rushed to prove its two favorite contradictory truisms. One, that we remain the most diverse city in the country, embracing new cultures and peoples and ideas as only befits America’s headquarters for the exploration of the cosmos and all its wonders. Two, that within that diverse grouping are still terrible bigoted assholes who have nothing better to do than show up to prove they’re terrible, bigoted assholes on the first day of class.

The article goes on to say how these people are confusing “Arab” with “Muslim” and both of these with “terrorist” to boot. Which, honestly, I find rather offensive, especially taking into account I’m an atheist white male. Former President George W. Bush, in an extremely rare moment of brilliance during his eight-year tenure from 2001 to 2009, made it clear that he understood Islam is a peaceful religion, and attacks such as those on 2001 September 11 made in the name of Islam are in fact a blasphemy against it. If he can get it, why can’t everyone else?

Another good point is made later on, regarding our numbering system originating from Arabic. This is something a lot of people forget; indeed, put next to Roman or other numbering systems, those other systems look rather archaic by comparison. As just one example of how primitive Roman numerals are by comparison: there is no way to write zero, nor is there an easy way to write decimal fractions that I am aware of.

A couple of the signs in the picture appear to say things beginning with “QATAR OUT…” with the rest not being easily legible. I’m not even sure where to begin with this one. I get what HISD is doing with AIMS; it’s certainly not being sponsored by the Qatar government, it’s being done with Houston’s tax dollars, for the benefit of not just Houston and Texas, but potentially the entire US.

Even if this is an issue worthy of protest (and obviously it is to at least some people), there are certainly far better ways and locations to protest this than the first day of school just outside school grounds. If you really feel that way, vote against the elected officials (school board trustees) that let this happen. But for the love of humanity, please understand that ruining the first day of school for these kids is just not going to accomplish anything useful, either to you or to them. Think back to your first day of school, and what it would have been like to face protesters.

I will say I think it is a bit unfortunate on one level that our dependence on oil has indirectly led to schools like AIMS being necessary. That said, AIMS is how HISD is making lemonade out of those lemons. AIMS is actually about more than just the Arabic language, it is also about learning the culture of the countries in the Middle East where Arabic is spoken. Even if, hypothetically, more of the people over there learn English to communicate with us (which is a really big “if”), the culture still needs to be learned for the most harmonious relationships.