As she marched me up the gray steps of Sam Phil, my Andover tour guide pointed to the right wing and listed the modern language classes offered here: Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. Growing up with half of my family speaking Arabic but being unable to speak it myself, the language enticed me. However, after I received that decorated admission package, I looked through the Course of Study and could not find Arabic listed. The school stopped teaching it. Forced to choose another language, I picked Spanish, though I was still frustrated.
The thought of taking Arabic moved to the back of my mind as I prepared for freshman fall. Throughout freshman year, however, it gradually resurfaced as I realized that this campus is littered with reasons as to why Arabic needs to be taught. As someone who is Middle Eastern, I quickly discovered the lack of understanding surrounding the Middle East at this school. Through this campus’ slogan “youth from every quarter,” I have met international students from Palestine, Bahrain, Somaliland, United Arab Emirates, and Morocco, in addition to other students of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) heritage. Somehow, this school still has no cultural understanding, or even competency, surrounding these “quarters.” So many students think of the Middle East and North Africa as such foreign places. In their minds, these countries are war zones and far-off names heard only on television screens. The word Arabic itself is so uncommon at Andover that on multiple occasions, I heard it pronounced as Ar-ay-bic rather than Ar-ah-bic. My own identity as Jordanian was somehow confused with Gregorian (yes, like Gregorian Chants).
At the same time I witnessed this lack of understanding of MENA culture, I began to learn Spanish. While learning the language, my class studied Latinx art. We read poems, listened to music, and examined artists like Frida Khalo and Ruben Blades. While a 75-minute long Spanish class could never give me an in-depth understanding of the culture, it allowed me a glimpse into it. After all, language is a well known way to experience culture. Even AP language exams have a culture section. Since students cannot study Arabic, they have no way of even beginning to grasp the fundamentals of MENA culture other than out-of-school experiences. Greats like Nancy Ajram and Amr Diab will hardly ever be uncovered by Andover’s students.
Andover aspires to be a member of the global world, yet through this neglect of MENA culture they are not living up to it. Without the proper representation of MENA culture, Andover is an institution that fails to accurately represent the diversity of the world to its students. Despite what many of my peers seem to believe, the Middle East and North Africa hold a significant part of the world’s population. It is estimated by the World Bank that in these regions there are 465 million people. For comparison, that is 136 million more people than in the United States. Statistica states Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world — greater than French, German, Japanese, and Russian, all languages offered at Andover. Furthermore, according to the National Arab Institute, Arabs have been immigrating to the United States since the 1880s. The Migration Policy Institute states that in 2010, the number of MENA immigrants within the United States was 861,000, and just six years later it rose to around 1.17 million. It is important that Andover reflects the representation of MENA regions throughout the world within their institution by offering Arabic. This is especially necessary to help students understand the significance of these regions and people as they move from Andover into the broader world.
If Arabic returns to the Andover curriculum, it would also have sufficient demand. Arabic was already building a program and has shown previous student interest. According to previous Courses of Study the language was taught from 2008 to 2012. The Courses of Study show that the program grew from a single term-contained class to two levels in 2011-2012, the last year it was consistently taught. By this year, the 100-level offered three different types of introductory courses, as well as an accelerated spring term option. The 200-level offered both an accelerated and a standard year-long course. Further demonstrating that the language would be sustained at Andover, similar boarding schools, including Phillips Exeter Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, Deerfield Academy, and Loomis Chaffee School all teach Arabic, according to each respective school’s course of study. By not offering Arabic, students are missing out—after all, they could have gone to a vast number of similar boarding schools and taken the language.
I chose to attend Andover rather than another preparatory school because I truly believe it offers an exceptional high school experience. However, if this school is going to pride itself on being a part of the larger global community, it is necessary that Andover teaches Arabic. This will not only help provide necessary cultural literacy on campus, but it will also allow our school to compete with and live up to the standards of other increasingly competitive preparatory schools. I hope that this school will create a future where prospective students can tour our school and become fascinated with the exciting and world opening opportunities Andover grants, including learning Arabic.