Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Your Local Press Lied About a Ban on Arabic in Schools

Leave it to our local newspapers to camouflage the whole point of a Michigan Leadership Institute (MLI) report released last week discussing ways to improve performance in Dearborn’s high schools. The real bombshell at the heart of the MLI report is that Fordson High School Principal Imad Fadlallah uses anger and intimidation to beat down his staff, his performance is seriously subpar, and Fordson has problems with security and indiscipline comparable to a dysfunctional inner-city high school.

Instead, hoping to throw Dearborn residents off the scent, Tanveer Ali at The Detroit News chose to spin it that the key proposal was for Dearborn schools to “ban Arabic.” (“Dearborn schools urged to ban Arabic”).

A recommendation to bar Arabic speech in the city's most heavily Arab public high school unless it is absolutely necessary has sparked a sharp debate between those who say it's necessary to help students perform better and those who say it only helps alienate them.

Surprisingly, in spite of all the detail the report goes into about the unnamed Principal at Fordson High, none of the local stories (two in the Detroit News, and one in the Dearborn Press & Guide), ever mentions Fadlallah. Ali wanted to create a kerfuffle over a nonexistent ban on Arabic, which of course became a rumour that DPS was discontinuing bilingual classes for many of Dearborn’s Arab-only-speaking pupils.

And lo!, the power of the press. Two days later, flush with success, Ali was able to write the following lead:

Stung by a report recommending that English only be used at one of the district's most heavily Arab high schools, administrators fielded phone calls all day Thursday from community members worried about a ban. (“Dearborn schools to remain bilingual”).

Any chance that getting “stung” might help chill the enthusiasm of wishy-washy administrators for implementing the report’s real recommendations about Fadlallah?

You may be interested to learn that the MLI report, which is 44-pages long, contains exactly one short paragraph mentioning the use of Arabic (or actually, English) at Fordson:

Prohibit the use of any language other than English within the school. (Except as required when dealing with parents or students who are not proficient in the English Language) [sic] This should include commencement addresses. To do otherwise reinforces a perception of some that Fordson is an Arab school in America rather than an American school with Arab students.

That’s it. Hardly a ban on speaking Arabic. Otherwise would there be that two-mile wide loophole about Arabic being okay when talking to parents or kids who aren’t English proficient?

Obviously this recommendation is aimed at staff and teachers urging they stick to English “except as required.” Ali falsely paraphrased this to demand a “bar [to] Arabic speech. . . unless it is absolutely necessary.” And was there a problem at staff level to justify this recommendation?

Yes. Kevin Harris, president of the Dearborn Federation of Teachers and a former economics teacher at Fordson, confirms something like this was the case. "The report's concern is that there's an overuse of the native tongue when there didn't really need to be," Harris said. When English speakers choose to communicate in Arabic he said, "It does make me suspicious and I think it's rude for them to do this. If situations were reversed, how would you feel? I don't think they get that."

The section also mentions sticking to English in “commencement addresses.” I had no idea commencement addresses at Fordson High School were being delivered in Arabic. Do Fordson school officials really need to be told this isn’t a good idea? How, for instance, can ACLU monitors know the commencement speakers aren't quoting from the Koran, or worse, know when to kill the mike if someone mentions their Lord and Savior, Jesus?! Arabic speakers get saved, too!

(I wish I could entice more Dearborn public school people and parents to send us at DU their reports about what goes on. I'm too old to pass for high school and it all sounds so interesting!)

Lastly, this short paragraph in the MLI, (which I repeat, is only a minor detour from the report’s real subject: Fadlallah), warns of “a perception. . .that Fordson is an Arab school in America rather than an American school with Arab students.”

That perception isn’t imaginary. Recently Gregg Krupa, Detroit News Muslim Affairs Correspondent, (so a guy well Down with the Community), described Fordson as a “predominantly Muslim school.” Need I ask you to imagine how fast any ACLU Commissar would denounce a mom at a Canton or Brownstown PTA meeting who accidentally described her child’s local elementary as a “predominantly Christian school”?

These articles were designed to kill the report’s findings about Fadlallah in the press, and they worked.

Imad Hamad was standing by to warn us all that speaking Arabic in a Midwestern high school is a guarantee of the First Amendment. (“Limit use of Arabic at high schools”). Four days after Ali wrote his first piece, the Press & Guide’s Jason Carmel Davis repeated almost word-for-word Ali’s “unless absolutely necessary” misstatement:

So what prompted the Michigan Leadership Institute (MLI) in a 48-page report detailing several aspects of the Dearborn Public School District's (DPS) three public high schools to single out Fordson in a recommendation to prohibit all non-English language use unless absolutely necessary to communicate with parents or students?

Three articles. Not one anywhere mentions the word, “Fadlallah.” More on the substance of this report later.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

So it appears that the former Fordson High School has fully morphed into Hezbollah High. I too would love to hear some inside accounts of what really goes on inside their halls. Bake sales for Hamas?

Great reporting as always, T.R.

-- Dearborn Expat

Wendy Woodley said...

What a dirty trick. If only reporters could be held more accountable! And Fadlallah - how does he continue to be allowed to be a high school principal? Very frustrating!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Woodley. Based on what has been reported regarding Fadlallah in the past 10 years, he should have been fired by now.

Instead, we see the DPS (ARTIS) and the media (Warikoo and now Tanveer) all spinning for him. This is curious. What could be their motive?

JH

Anonymous said...

I think the DPS is sweating bullets trying to avoid a lawsuit. The threat is big enough to motivate them to remain silent.

But, I am guessing the "Arab Leaders" planned the "Ban Arabic" piece to distract attention away from Principal Thug and garner sympathy.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how this speaks to some DPS-media coordinated conspiracy in all honesty. While the semantics of the different articles could be debated, the fact of the matter is that the report did say to "prohibit the use of any language other than English within the school." Because Arab is far and away the largest non-english speaking demographic and it is specifically referenced more than once in the report, I think it's safe to assume that is what's meant.

If you go through and read the report it becomes clear that several of the issues confronting the district are not uncommon, rather they are almost universal across the country. Poor math and science scores, increasing teacher performance/accountability, etc. So for the media to seize on this issue - the issue that sets DPS apart from other districts - makes sense. As to why Fadlallah was unmentioned that is somewhat interesting, but I think that one could infer that the top administrator in the building that was fingered with the language issue may be culpable for creating that environment. I guess I just don't understand the uproar over not reporting on Fadlallah when the report was about the entire district, not one school.

Anonymous said...

I believe the impetus for the report was the fact that Fordson was FAILING miserably as a school. So, I disagree with you. I believe his behavior should have had him fired long ago. Instead, we are paying extra money to teach him not to be a thug.

This is the news - and they are NOT banning arabic - so that is not news

T.R. Clancy said...

Dear Anon

You make a valid point that many of the problems identified are common problems in school systems everywhere—problems that are too commonplace to rate news coverage.

So the question is, why did the media feel the need to seize on the language issue, or any of the other issues at all? How is this report even news, especially under headlines claiming that Arabic was being banned in a Dearborn school?

Given the mundane issues in the Report on the one hand, and the single paragraph urging staff to stick to English on the other, I find striking how much more space the Report dedicates to breaking out the problems caused by a single individual and his coterie.

You say there’s logic in not mentioning Fadlallah by name because it’s inferred that he’s the cause of problems in his school. That logic may go for the Report, but what about the news articles?

There are five Ws in journalism: Who, What, When, Where, and Why, and “WHO?” ranks as Number One for a reason.

Fadlallah is already a controversial figure in Dearborn, then he gets a shellacking in this Report, and that’s not news?

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

My children attend a Dearborn elementary school whose principal DEMANDS that all communication take place in ENGLISH (unless of course, parents are unable to understand a teacher, then an interpreter is called in) Test scores and discipline are very good in our school. Hmm....

Anonymous said...

Apparently it has become convenient to cry "discrimination" or "racism" when something unpleasant or inconvenient is brought to the attention of SOME Middle-Eastern immigrants who've chosen to make their home in the Dearborn area. It is disturbing that our local media has chosen to play into their false cries.