3. Human Relationships, School Policies, and Educational Programs
Advise your children about how to handle incidents of harassment. They should walk away and refuse to enter into situations of confrontation, even if they are physically assaulted. Schools normally have policies which punish everyone involved in fights, not just the student who started the fight. If students fight back, they must be prepared to suffer the consequences — suspension or other penalties.
Trust your instincts. If you or your children become uncomfortable in the school setting, there is likely something wrong about the situation. Such an atmosphere may involve attitudes you encounter, tones of voice, stares, teasing or inappropriate jokes, conversations which suddenly stop when you enter the room, subtle forms of exclusion, or inappropriate and frequent references to your ethnicity, race or religion.
Such things are signals that the school has not yet created an atmosphere of genuine openness, understanding, and acceptance of Arab Americans. It may be more a problem of effective implementation of school policy than one of the attitudes of individuals.
Don‘t overreact. Parents are justifiably upset if their child is being harassed. At the same time, the parents‘ emotional reaction can also have a negative impact on their children. It can also make the situation worse and be a barrier to a successful resolution of the problem.
The solution may require a stronger school policy against harassment and more conscientious efforts to reach out to the Arab-American community. This could consist of meetings with parents and community leaders at the school or at an Arab-American home, church, mosque or community organization. Some communities have invited teachers and school officials to “town meetings,” Ramadan dinners and other social and educational events which serve to build positive relationships with educators.
Schools can also hold special classes and assemblies, set up cultural exhibits, hold teacher in-service programs, utilize classroom resources recommended by the community, and more consciously include Arab-American resources and perspectives where appropriate in classes in social studies, world and American history, geography, current events, civics and government, world religions and world literature, sociology and psychology. For classroom resources, contact the ADC Research Institute, ADC’s 501(c)(3) tax-deductible educational affiliate.
Our goal should be to bring about a positive change in attitudes and behavior, greater respect for Arab Americans, and a better understanding of the Arab world. A punitive attitude which puts educators on the defensive is unlikely to yield a satisfactory outcome. Often a negative event can be the catalyst for bringing about a positive change at an academic level and at the level of classroom relationships.