9/11 led New York pupils to learn Arabic
When the World Trade Center collapsed in the September 11 attacks, Nate Chumley, who had not yet turned 10 years old, suddenly saw his world get bigger.
“I was in fourth grade when 9/11 happened and I was involuntarily thrust into the politics of the Middle East,” said Mr Chumley, now 18 and a 2010 graduate of Friends Seminary, the first high school in New York City to offer classes in Arabic. “When given the option, I jumped at the chance of learning Arabic. It’s such a beautiful language.”
He is just one of the coming-of-age New Yorkers who were children then and have started to satisfy their almost decade-old curiosity about the Middle East by learning Arabic.
The Friends Seminary is a Quaker school although only four per cent of pupils belong to the pacifist, Christian faith, said Robert Lauder, the principal. Forty-eight pupils out of a student body of 275 have signed up to learn Arabic this year.
The school went through a long process of consulting parents, teachers and pupils before deciding to offer Arabic classes instead of Mandarin. “There was no vociferous opposition and there was some discussion of offering Hebrew, too,” he said. “Arabic fits our mission and offers opportunities for effecting peace.”
Learning Arabic had helped to dispel the “propaganda and stereotyping that was so prevalent in the media”, said Hayes Peebles, who graduated from Friends this year, performs as a singer and plans to study philosophy at university. “As a small child who watched the fire trucks race towards the WTC [World Trade Center] on September 11, the issue was especially pertinent and that much more powerful and frightening.”