Teaching Arab Stories and Counteracting Negative Stereotypes

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 15, 2008 1 min read
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Having just returned from reporting in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan for Education Week and exploring Egypt (on vacation), I’m particularly interested in an article just published in Childhood Education that guides teachers in selecting children’s literature about the Arab world. The authors of the article, “Celebrating diversity through explorations of Arab children’s literature,” are Tami Al-Hazza, an assistant professor, and Bob Lucking, a professor at the Darden College of Education at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

The authors observe that these days, “Arab extremists or Muslim fundamentalists bent on destroying the world populate contemporary films,” and Arabs have become a “minority of suspicion” in the United States. To counteract negative stereotypes of Arabs, they say, teachers can expose their students to good-quality Arab children’s literature that describes everyday events and the thoughts and feelings of Arab children.

One children’s book recommended in the article that I’d like to go out and buy right now is The Day of Ahmed’s Secret, published in 1995 by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland. The cover illustration has a scene much like those my husband and I saw while riding a local mini-bus through Cairo to the Pyramids. We passed boys and men riding on donkey carts piled high with vegetables and fruits. Ahmed’s donkey cart, in the story, is carrying tanks of butane gas for delivery to customers in Cairo. A couple of values of Arab culture emphasized in the book, according to the Old Dominion University professors, are the importance of family and fulfilling one’s role in society.

It seems that teachers of diverse groups of children have caught on to using various stories in their classrooms about Latin American culture. But the teaching of Arab children’s literature is less prevalent. The Childhood Education article gives teachers an opportunity to expand their repertoire of children’s literature in that regard.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.