The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 210 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, Host

GONZALEZ: One of the many ways we can make our schools more nurturing for all students is to diversify our classroom materials. When students see themselves in the curriculum, it shapes their identities by offering a reflection of themselves; Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop describes these kinds of materials as “mirrors.” Diverse materials also serve as what Sims calls “windows” and “sliding glass doors,” allowing us to view people who are different from us and enter worlds different from what we’re familiar with.  

While many educators embrace the goal of diversifying classroom materials in theory, they may not be confident about how to achieve it. Websites like We Need Diverse Books and Diverse Book Finder are a great place to start. Another approach is to look into our curricula to find places where the contributions of many cultures can be more fully acknowledged.

In today’s episode, we’ll be doing this with a specific focus on Arab cultures. A little over a year ago in episode 185, Dr. Sawsan Jaber helped us understand how  Arab-American students often experience exclusion, bullying, and other forms of marginalization in our schools, and how we can do a better job of supporting them. Today, Dr. Jaber returns with three other educators — Fatma Elsamra, Reem Fakhry, and Abeer Ramadan-Shinnawi — to focus more specifically on the curriculum piece of this work, approaches we can take to integrate Arab narratives into our teaching and curriculum.

If this topic interests you, I want you to know that over on the website, I’m going to provide a list of resources that don’t all get mentioned here in our conversation. We didn’t think it would make for a compelling podcast if we just listed a bunch of titles, so we kept the conversation more conceptual, but please go over to, click podcast, and choose episode 210 to go to the blog post I’ve put together for this episode — there you’ll find a list of books, websites, and other resources that will help you integrate Arab narratives in English language arts, math, science, and social studies.

This episode is brought to you by JumpStart, my online technology course designed especially for teachers. While technology can and should make teaching more effective and students’ learning richer, it’s far too easy to use it at a kind of “bare minimum” level for uninspired, rote assignments that don’t require much creativity or deep thought. Jumpstart will make sure you’re getting much more out of the tech you have, and it will help you make smart choices about what you might want to add. By guiding you through ten hands-on modules, each one focusing on a specific process, the course gets you thinking about tools in terms of all the different ways they can be used to expand learning in your classroom. You’ll finish with a new set of skills, a big picture perspective on how tech can give your classroom a boost, and lots of new ideas you’ll want to try.

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Now here’s our conversation about ways to integrate Arab narratives across the curriculum.

GONZALEZ: All right, so I have four people with me. Normally I just say hello and welcome to the one person but I have four people. And so we are going to meet three of them in a few minutes, but we’re going to start with Dr. Sawsan Jaber who has been with me before on a previous episode. Sawsan contacted me a little while ago with an idea for an episode and we are executing that right now. So Sawsan, welcome back.

JABER: Thank you for having me. I’m always excited to be here.

GONZALEZ: And tell me, explain for the, for the sake of the, of the audience, of the listeners. How did this episode come to fruition? Where did it come from? What are we doing today?

JABER: I think, the last time I was on the show, we were talking about the why we need to include the Arab narrative, the Arab American narrative, and kind of understanding Arab students and Muslim students and how they show up in our classroom spaces and how we should show up for them and support them in our, in our classroom spaces. So I think in listening to a lot of things, first, I reached out to a lot of people who have platforms and I said, you know, what are we doing for Arab Heritage Month? And a lot of people weren’t doing much. And so a lot of the question kind of came back to is, how do we, like, actually we know, we have the why. We know we need to do this work. But how do we do it? What does it look like?


JABER: And so I think oftentimes people see that equity work in general or the idea of creating, like, pictures for students of themselves or cultural responsiveness sits more in a humanities classroom. And the reality is that the Arab heritage and the Arab culture is something that kind of is cross content areas. And when we think about curriculum and we really interrogate curriculum in most schools, we often see the Arab culture come up only or because there’s a conflation of Arab and Muslim identities. We see those come up only when we’re talking about the Ottoman empire or when we’re talking about 9/11. And so oftentimes those very limited stories and not creating a fuller picture, like the contributions that Arabs have in arts, the contributions that Arabs have made in the maths, the contributions that Arabs have contributed to the sciences and in humanities. For example, the single stories that are often taught are not even representative of the Arabs that are in the, in the classrooms. And so by teaching these texts, we’re actually harming students and not being culturally responsive towards them. It’s well-intentioned negative impact. And so I really wanted to bring on experts that are my sisters and my loves and people that I’ve worked with in different chapters of my life who I know live and breathe equity in their spaces to kind of talk about — and all of us have, we’re all Arab. And to kind of just kind of talk about how to really think about integrating the Arab narrative with fidelity and intentionality in different content areas where we know that there are, it can easily augment standards and things that we’re doing in our classroom spaces because that narrative is one that is very present in a lot of the things that we’re already doing but people don’t know because it’s an intentionally erased narrative. And so we want to bring that to light and kind of elevate the different content areas and elevate the different ways and the different contributions so people have a better understanding of how to naturally bring it in across content areas.

GONZALEZ: This is great because I do think there are a lot of teachers who have that intention, but then they don’t know what to do next. And so we’re going to provide them with resources and tools for that. 

JABER: Absolutely.

GONZALEZ: So what we’re going to do is we’ll go through English language arts, social studies, science, and math. And we have got people from all of the different content areas today. So what I, what I’d like to do for the listeners is just meet each person briefly so that we know who we’re going to be listening to, and then we will start into those content areas. So Fatma, why don’t you go first?

ELSAMRA: Sure. It’s so nice to be here. Thank you for having us. My name is Fatma Elsamra, and I am a math supervisor in a charter school in New Jersey. I taught in a classroom for over 23 years and it was time for me to just move on and hopefully have a bigger impact on teachers. And this is a great platform to, you know, to bring this forth, and I’m looking forward to it.

GONZALEZ: Great. Thank you. And you’re gonna be talking to us about math. 

ELSAMRA: Yes, correct. I will be talking about math. Yes.

GONZALEZ: Okay, great. Thanks.

FAKHRY: My name is Reem Fakhry. I am a science curriculum developer, sorry. I have worn so many hats. Forgot where I was now. I started off teaching science in the middle school and became the head of the science department. I spent about 18 years there and then I left the science classroom to work in ed tech. I worked at a software development company for about nine years where I provided professional development and wrote content for integrating technology and literacy in the science classroom or integrating science in the English language arts classroom, whichever way you see it. And I traveled the country and the Caribbean to give professional development to the different levels of teaching science. And now I do the curriculum development there. So I’ll be, I’ll be talking today about the science.

GONZALEZ: Excellent. Thank you. And then Abeer, you’re the last one.

SHINNAWI: Thank you. Thank you for having us. Abeer Ramadan-Shinnawi. I’m famous for saying the phrase “I wear two scarves.” I think we all have, you know, we’re multidimensional. I am a program director for a nonprofit. But in this realm I’m also an education consultant. I do have a background in education of over 20 years. Middle school social studies is my jam, as I tell people. Middle school is the place where we get students. As many of us know, if we don’t really grasp our students’ understanding of learning and the love for learning at middle school, I think we’ve lost them, unfortunately. And I really enjoy teaching social studies, especially at that age, because social studies is the content where you’re talking about civics and events and, you know, things that happen in the community that involve students. I’m also background in curriculum design, which I really enjoy doing, especially if it’s a topic that’s of interest. And so I’ve been working with Sawsan for quite some time now and also the importance of amplifying Arab and Muslim youth. I also create affinity groups for middle school girls who identify as Arab or Muslim or both. And for a strategic reason, especially since they’re middle school girls, you know, the whole concept of identity is very important at that age. And so I think it’s important also to create affinity groups and get feedback from students on what they would like to see in the school, reflective of their own concerns and for the larger community. So between curriculum, affinity groups, podcasts, you know, writing articles, I think we all have our hands full, but enjoying the work and a background as a child of immigrants has also helped really understand how we can amplify and why it’s important.

GONZALEZ: It sounds like everyone here has lots and lots of classroom experience and then sort of leadership and more broad experience as well, which is such a wealth of knowledge in this little virtual room that we’re in. This is really exciting.

JABER: I call them sheroes. That’s what I call them.

GONZALEZ: So let’s go ahead and get started with English language arts. And, you know, Sawsan, you did allude to this when we had our conversation last year. In particular, you were talking about “The Kite Runner.” And so go ahead and let’s talk about some ways that we can integrate the Arab narrative into the English language arts classroom.

JABER: I think the first thing when we’re talking about the Arab culture is to understand that poetry is very much part of the Arab culture. It’s always been present, even if we look at, like, the Islamic culture. Because a lot of the Islamic faith was, obviously it was in Arabia. So even our, even our Quran is written in verse, and it’s written with poetry. And I love looking at the Quran and looking for similes and metaphors and other things that are there. It’s a beautiful literary piece to really analyze. So it’s always been there. I think the spoken word art was a thing in, like, historic Arabia, and they used to have battles in the middle of the villages and things like that. So that’s always been present. So literature historically has been a part of the Arab culture. In current day, the culture has shifted tremendously where if we want to think about in most Arab countries, those who fail the sciences go into the humanities. So unfortunately there isn’t a lot of literature that is written by own voices in English by Arabs or in Arabic by Arabs that is current, that’s contemporary. But that’s starting to shift with our kids. So oftentimes when people ask me, like, give me a resource list, there’s not that many texts. There are more today. I think in the last five years, I’d say, there have been, there’s been an emergence of new novels and new writers that are coming out who are struggling in the publishing world. I think also, I had a conversation for an NCTE event that I’m planning on April 25 — that everybody should log into if you’re listening to this and it comes out before, because it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be called Ode to Arab Joy. So It’s a celebration of Arab voices, and I had a panel of authors that I was having a conversation with yesterday. And many of them talked about how challenging it is to get published without making modifications and rewriting your character to make it what mainstream media kind of represents and reinforces. And so I think that, kind of the challenges of, that exist in the publishing world also limit Arab voices from being published. So I think there are texts. And I know that Jenn you’re going to share a resource list, so there’s no need to kind of go through them, but there’s poetry. There’s more poetry than there is novels. There are memoirs. But my thing as an English teacher has always been, how can we really elevate student voices by getting students to write, right? And really create those content pieces that become mirrors of themselves? Because the reality is no matter how many novels we do read about the Arab world, there are 20-plus countries and they’re all very, very different, and even within the same country. I’m Palestinian. If you come from a village in Palestine, it’s very different than if you come from the main cities. So the culture is different. The traditions are different. The dialect of Arabic that’s spoken is very different. And so no matter how much we read about cultures that we are not a part of, I think that there is always something to learn. And so as an English teacher, I’ve really learned in the last five years in my own practice, how do I get students to feel comfortable enough and safe enough to A) let go of their sense of duality when they’re walking into my classroom space. So that takes a lot of culture-building and community-building first. And then how do I get them to really realize and think about how important it is for them to reclaim their own narratives? Because Arabs aren’t the only marginalized group that have had their narrative taken away from them. And so by doing it this way, we’re kind of elevating the voices of the students in the classroom, and they are becoming the content creators that become the main resources of our classroom space.

GONZALEZ: Right? Can we, can we go back? You said something a minute ago about letting go of their sense of duality when they walk in the classroom. Can you say just a little more about that?

JABER: Yeah. I think, my research has shown that many Arab students, and I think that this exists again, it comes from W. E. B. Du Bois when he talks about double consciousness with the Black community and Black kids, right? That they’re, they’re code switching, and they’re dressing differently in order for them to assimilate and fit into spaces. And so with my research focusing on Arab American students, I found that even the kids that seem to be thriving in our spaces, in school spaces, when having conversations with them, are constantly in internal turmoil and conversation with themselves about what pieces of themselves to share in certain spaces versus what pieces of themselves to hide and that they don’t feel like are welcome into certain spaces. And oftentimes, it was their cultural linguistic pluralism that they were leaving at home, because they felt like it was something that wasn’t accepted in school. And so it was sometimes so extreme to the point where kids would dress one way leaving the home and then come to school with a change of clothes in their backpack or, you know, letting go of their names. Like, one of the things that I noticed across all of the students that I interviewed for my dissertation research was every single one of them purposely mispronounced their Arab name even though they were talking to another Arab. And when I asked them why, they said when I pronounce their name correctly, it makes them uncomfortable, because they feel like it just stands out even more, and they just want to fit. Because the reality is we know developmentally adolescents want to belong, and part of that belonging to them means that I have to be like everybody else, right? Until they get to a certain age and hopefully they grow out of that and they become more comfortable in their own skin. For many adults, that never happens. But by the time you get to that, you’ve let go of so many things, like your name, the cultural markers, the religious markers, they become things that you leave to the side. And that sense of duality that I am one person in school and one person out of school forms, and that almost becomes so inherent that you don’t even realize it’s happening anymore until you stop to really interrogate yourself. And I’ve seen that with my students. So we spend the first almost three or four months of school really just questioning identity through literature and talking about it deeply. I had a student who is an Afro-Latina, and she, and we are in our primarily Latine school, and her father wasn’t very involved. Her father was Black, and he wasn’t very involved. Her Latine mother raised her, and so she really, really struggled with her biculturalism. And she didn’t know which part of herself to really, she was Black presenting, but she had more Latine influence, and she didn’t know how to bring those two identities together. And so these conversations really helped her kind of come to terms with how to love both sides of herself equally even though it didn’t, it didn’t matter which context she was in. And she talks, she did a beautiful piece that she talks about her journey through her hair. So at the beginning of the year she was straightening her hair, and by the end of the year she was coming in with her natural hair in the classroom because she had owned her entire identity. And so for Arab students, it’s very similar, right? There are very present cultural markers, whether it’s the way they dress or the food. Like, I know my daughter used to bring ethnic food to school for lunch, and then kids would make fun of her and spit in her food, so she stopped doing that. And then little by little I saw her chipping away at other pieces of herself as she got older and people became more antagonistic towards the things that made her different. And I think a lot of that comes from the fact that we don’t have these conversations with students. So how can we build that empathy and understanding or eliminate that fear if we’re not having conversations to get students to really understand each other deeper than what’s at the, on the surface.


JABER: And I always say too, like as teachers, even if we see these kids doing great — and I say great with air quotes — like they’re, they’re successfully academic, they’re successful academically, they are involved in extracurricular activities. Unless we’re doing the qualitative conversations and really picking up on that street data, we don’t know what they’re dealing with on the inside. So what presents itself on the outside with many of our students is not actually what they’re feeling and experiencing on the inside. And so it becomes almost pertinent and necessary for teachers to really find ways to give students the opportunity to share some of those deeper things that are happening within, because that is what is impeding students from becoming successful or really growing into themselves, and then sharing the pieces of themselves because it’s not a safe space anymore. Especially with those identities that we know have intentionally been — like, there’s a fear factor around Arab and Muslim identities in general, right? That’s something that the mainstream media has contributed to, politics have contributed to that, history has contributed to that. And very few have done anything to really undo the harm and the fear that’s been elevated around Arab and Muslim bodies. And so it almost makes it okay in that situation, where it’s not okay with other kids, for people to be aggressive or not see a lot of the things that they would see with other groups. And so even in my research, I found that one in three Arab students is bullied by a teacher, not by a student. So if we think about that concept. So here are adolescents who are going through all of these other things that every other adolescent is going through, but then to top it all off, they’re dealing with these macro aggressions from people who are supposed to be creating safe spaces for them. So how is a teacher going to create, like, to see the value in integrating curriculum that is really presenting these students accurately if we’re not even willing to do that work within ourselves internally? It’s not going to happen in our classroom spaces. And I’ll tell you as a professional in the last year alone, I can give you story after story of ways that as an educator we have dealt with that turmoil in spaces — in predominantly white school spaces — which is the majority of schools today with the demographic divide. 


JABER: We’re facing it as adults, and it hurts, and it’s really uncomfortable. So you can only imagine if I’m an adolescent. And I always say like you mark your life with milestones. For Arabs and Muslims, 9/11 was a huge one because it made things really ugly for a lot of us, and it made things very difficult. I say Trump is another right? 


JABER: Because then that, the Muslim ban and a lot of that really elevated, so the difference between experiences of kids before the Trump era and after, it’s but, it’s been much more aggressive and it almost normalized the idea that you can say and do whatever you want, and nobody’s going to hold you accountable for it. And so even in a local community like mine where 38 percent of the Arab students, of the students are Arab in our local district, it feels like the aggression has gotten much more, much more extreme. And the pushback from administration and teachers is almost not there at all. And it’s, and it’s because still, even in our local district, they’re teaching things like “The Kite Runner.” And I know we’ve talked about that before, but I’m going to bring it up again.

GONZALEZ: Yeah, but give us a refresher for people who haven’t listened to that past episode.

JABER: Yeah. So “The Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini is not an Arab, right? So if we’re trying to be culturally responsive, that’s not the text that we need to be teaching, because he is not an Arab. And I think that oftentimes there’s a conflation of identities. People don’t understand, right? And yes, he may be a Muslim, or he may identify as a Muslim, but the Islam that’s represented in that text is extremist Islam. It’s like cult Christianity. It’s not the Islam that many Muslims follow or the Islam the majority of Muslims follow. So if we’re putting this text into the curriculum because we feel like it’s speaking to the students, whether Arab or Muslim, it’s not speaking to them. It’s immersing them in stereotypes of themselves. 


JABER: And oftentimes it’s not taught that way. It’s not taught as a stereotypical text. And so it becomes the only window that a lot of other kids, whether there are Arab students in those schools or not, have into the Arab culture. Or they think they have into the Arab culture because he’s not an Arab. So it’s not the Arab culture. 


JABER: Or it’s these misconceptions. And then there’s no, nothing else that’s in the curriculum, oftentimes, that actually is representative of these students. No poetry. No, no novels, no memoirs, no historic lessons, nothing. So this is it. It’s either this or nothing. And so here are kids that are, like I said, sitting in stereotypes of themselves and not able to advocate, because advocacy means that I have to be first strongly rooted in my own identity, and then able to withstand the idea that I might stand out even more by advocating for myself. So I’m just going to be quiet and I’m going to take this, and little by little, that has a deep impact on that kid and on every other student that’s sitting in that space.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. So we have, and we’re going to be providing a list of some poetry and some novels that can be infused into the curriculum as alternatives to “The Kite Runner.” And I want to just reiterate something that you said too is that our students sitting in our classrooms, our Arab students, can also be providing new narratives of modern day Arab students living in America and what is their experience. That of course has to come with a whole lot of cultural responsiveness in the classroom to begin with. They’d have to feel safe to do that. But those narratives can also come — is what you’re saying, right — from our students? 

JABER: I’m saying yes, but it’s not the student’s job to teach the teachers. Like, I want to make sure that we —


JABER: Because the worst thing that you can do to a student is say, “Hey, it’s Arab Heritage Month. Can you tell us about, you know, something” that whatever. Like, it’s not the student’s job to teach the teacher. It’s the student. Yeah.

GONZALEZ: I’m glad you said that, because when you started, you talked about getting our students writing and you’re, you’re talking more about for themselves, for their own identity work, not necessarily as representatives of their culture.

JABER: Well, I say this when I present to teachers, and I’m going to say it here too, because I think it’s important for us to preface. Black scholarship that started equity and really was the first, the first voices for advocacy for equity really advocated for everybody, right? And so even though they were really advocating for the most marginalized community, which was our Black students, it was work that benefited everybody. When we talk about equity work, equity work is for every single student. The reality is and, and whether we like to face it or not, right, we are the only country in the world that has school shootings, and we are the only country in the world that has mass shootings. Our school shooters are predominantly middle class white affluent young men who feel like they don’t belong in schools. They are not Black and brown kids. And so when we talk about getting students to belong and really doing the work to get students to belong, although we’re saying it’s important because we want to level out the playing field for our Black and brown students, we are saying that this is work that’s going to benefit every child sitting in that space, whether you are going through a family divorce, whether you are going through substance abuse, mental health issues. You’re going through, you know, this identity crisis that a lot of our kids are having today. Whatever it is that you’re going through, when we create space for kids to write and talk about these things, they’re reclaiming their narrative, but there’s also a healing power in writing. And so as an English teacher, we have the opportunity to give students the chance to explore the world — technology also makes that very possible today — and engage them in so many different conversations. But we have the opportunity to get them to really think about themselves, their place in the world, who they are, and all of these different big questions that will help them come to terms with whatever it is that they’re dealing with and really heal from it, even if it’s just journaling. I found that journaling, I give my students journaling 10 minutes every single day, and they have the prompt “I wish my teacher knew” and that gives them a space. Like, if they have nobody else to talk to, I’m here and I care. Talk to me. If there’s something happening in your life where if I’m coming in to teach similes and metaphors, you don’t even care about my lesson because this other stuff is happening in your life and it’s much more important, I want to know. Because then I can then modify my interactions with that particular student because I have a window into their life. So even if we’re doing minor tweaks like something that is so simple like as when you walk in, we’re journaling every day, just get yourself, we’re building stamina. We’re making writing a source of healing here. We’re doing all these wonderful things that educators need to be doing anyway. But I’m also saying to you that what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing matters to me, and I would like you to share that if you feel comfortable doing so. And it takes some time but when they do, the students will share a lot of things and including, like, things that might relate to their personal identities or things that they’re facing really in, in their daily lives. So yes, we need to get all kids to be writing and all kids to be sharing. I don’t think, I think the worst thing we could do is single out specific students to ask them even about like, “Hey, are you fasting in Ramadan? Can you tell us about Ramadan?” That’s the worst thing you can do to a child who already is in crisis about who they are, because it’s gonna make them stand out more. 


JABER: But if we’re doing this work with all of our kids, then all of our kids are creating mirrors and windows for each other, right? The mirror that I created myself serves as a window for somebody who doesn’t know who I am and now we have this insight that is an accurate representation of who I am, because I am the one sharing my lived experience. I’m not leaving it up to my teacher to decide what’s representative of me where she may choose something like “The Kite Runner” that’s a stereotype and not necessarily a representation. So I’m, I really, we’re taking the pressure off of teachers when we’re saying co-design with students and get them to be the content creators. They are your best resource. And by doing so, as an English teacher, I found that my students, I’m not worried about the AI, the artificial intelligence stuff that’s coming out, because I know that my kids, when they’re writing, they’re writing things that are so personal and so deep they can’t have a bot write it for them. So when I was interviewed and asked, “Like, are you worried?” I said, you know, obviously I can see the panic. It was like when math teachers got calculators. I’m sure that everybody panicked, you know, it’s the same concept. But at the end of the day, we have had to make English more authentic anyway for decades. It’s about time. 


JABER: Maybe this new technology will force us to really make our, to authenticate our teaching and our learning and our, in our English spaces.

GONZALEZ: All right. Well, thank you so much, and so again, I want to remind everybody listening that we are going to provide a lot of resources. And we’re not going to go into them here, but they’re going to be on the website. Ah, let’s move on to social studies. Abeer, let’s, let’s hear from you. Where are we currently in terms of social studies not integrating the Arab perspective, and how can we fix that?

SHINNAWI: Well, the second part is a big, is a big task. So how can we fix it? It’s not, it’s easier said than done. But to answer the first question, I think the main reason why, excuse me, Arab Americans are not in curriculum is because people look at Arab Americans through such a stereotypical and biased lens. They tend to be overlooked. And therefore people look at the Arab communities as a new phenomenon, something that happened maybe in the last couple of decades, or something that’s related to what’s going on geopolitically in the region of the Middle East. And it’s also always taught the concept of either Arabs or Muslims and a concept of something quote-unquote foreign or in the past. And how I always put in perspective is similar to what Sawsan was saying, if you do look at curriculum for history, whether it’s middle school or not, because we know social studies isn’t usually taught in elementary, and if it is, it’s just content for the United States. We do world history in Islamic Spain, and we talk about, you know, all of the amazing contributions, and this whole kumbayah moment in Islamic Spain, which is wonderful, right? That was over how many hundreds of years ago? And then, or the other concept for international or world history is the Crusades, which is steeped in religious, cultural, ethnic biases, and we don’t really ever dig deeper into the economic factors, the geographic factors as to why the Crusades existed. It sends a message that, you know, Christian versus Muslim has always existed, East versus West has always been something that’s happened. And they negate the fact that the reason why, one of the reasons why, the Crusades happened is access to materials, which is what led to what they call exploration. In another piece, you leave that, and then if you fast forward, you know, centuries later you get into 9/11 or the war in Iraq or Afghanistan as more of a modern piece of history. 

So you have all of these pieces of Arab history that are either in the past, that don’t even exist anymore, or in the present but more in such a stereotypical negative concept of everything is war. They’re all refugees. They’re all as asylees. Look, they can’t get their house in order. This is why they’re coming. And when you do a dig or a search into the history of Arabs, one reason why people tend to overlook it is because it goes against the stereotype. And the stereotype is majority of the Arabs who did come to the United States in the 1800s were Christian. They were Christian, they were from areas of the Levant, which is now Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan, and they were leaving the countries, you know, just like a lot of other people were fleeing at the turn of, you know, the Industrial Revolution, World War I persecution. So they did come here. They settled in the Midwest. A lot of them did settle in large cities like New York. And if you go to Michigan or Chicago, the majority of them were Midwesterners, little small towns, very similar immigrant experience. You know, professor Edward Curtis does a great job of talking about Arabs of the Midwest: Indianapolis, you know, southern parts of Illinois, Bloomington-Normal. And so when you talk about that piece of history, it really is a huge mind shift. First of all, they’re Christian. Second of all, they’ve been here for so long. And third of all, their experience is just like every other immigrant experience. So when you start normalizing people that you haven’t normalized for a long time, that’s difficult for some people to understand. 

Another reason why Arab history and Muslim history is not really taught or even written with fidelity is because when curriculum is written by people outside of that lived experience, a lot of it is written through a biased lens. Intentional, unintentional, regardless of what it is, it’s biased. They’re going to come in and they’re going to present their own understanding of the religion and interpretation of the culture. A really good example is I saw a review of a curriculum for one of, one of the areas that I, that I work with, and as a person was scrolling through, it came to Islamic history and all of the objectives were in the negative: military conquest, persecution of religion. Like, nothing that really reflected something that was positive about the Muslim empire, even if it was in the past when we know that was something positive. So when I asked the person to dig deeper, it was teachers who wrote it, teachers who developed it, and what it comes down to is, who are they, who are they contacting? And a lot of times, when it comes to curriculum for social studies, unlike other subject matters, they always go to people who are on the collegial level. There’s nothing wrong with people going who are professors, but at the same token, you need materials that are relatable to students K-12. That’s No. 1. No. 2, what ended up happening was, who’s reviewing and vetting those resources? Because the lady ended up going back and going through her notes to see what the professor — who is of Muslim background — gave them. The materials shifted from the notes that were given to what was applied and what was written. So there has to be this really and huge intention of bringing in the right people, using the correct resources, and knowing how you’re going to vet those resources. We have teachers that I’ve seen a recent lesson plan of — I said this before and it still irks me. A teacher who wanted to talk about the relationships between the United States and all of the Arab countries clumped into one based on hot sauce. But then all of the questions were, what are their relationships to the United States? Are they hostile? Are they this? And I’m thinking, if you have a kid who’s Egyptian in that classroom, how are they going to feel about that particular lesson? But it really ends up being some people just don’t want to do the work and want to really dig deeper and create something that is reflective. And even if you don’t have Arab students, you may never have Arab students. I gave a session yesterday at a local community college. Everybody who was in the audience was either going to be in law enforcement, politics, or some sort of, you know, lawyer, right? So the reason why this is important is because policy impacts communities. So how are we going to be able to understand the history of Arabs, and what they’ve been through, and the policies that have affected them, or policies that have affected other communities of color that can spill over to Arab communities, and understand how their communities have developed around those policies, but also why it’s important to understand those communities? Because if you go into law enforcement and you’re a cop in that community, how are you going to be responsive? Or if you’re a lawyer in that community, or if you’re a politician. So all of these are very important for people to understand because the more you know, the better you are to be reflective of the people you represented. But also we live in a global society. Arabs tend to always be shafted. Like, they’re totally overlooked, for some reason. And the statistic is I think we only make about 1 or 2 percent of the population in the United States. But if you do an audit for curriculum, it’s heavily based on stereotypes and on myths of the Arab and Muslim community that has a huge impact on a larger scope, not just Arab Muslim students. To solve it, you know, there are a lot of other ways, but like I said, I think people need to be more intentional and bring in the right people.

GONZALEZ: It sounds like, I mean this sounds like a call to action really to textbook companies too, which is a much longer term solution. But even if teachers listening, who are social studies teachers, can recognize that their current materials — if there even is an attempt to weave in any kind of an Arab narrative — it probably is something negative and stereotypical. And even just that awareness can then send them hopefully on a search for other materials. And you were, you’re referring to sort of in America, in the United States, this sort of Arab immigrant experience over the last couple of hundred years? And also longer term world history that can really, we’re talking about so many different countries, and all of their various cultures and contributions.

SHINNAWI: Right. And also if we negate the fact that Arab communities have been developing in this country and have thrived and are in, you know, are the backbone just like a lot of other immigrant communities, we don’t make a distinction between over there and the Middle East and in the United States, right? Also, it’s this continuing othering and not allowing Arabs and Muslims to be American. At the end of the day, you’re still othered. At the end of the day, you’re not American enough. At the end of the day, you haven’t done X, Y, and Z, right? You don’t assimilate enough. You don’t do anything. There’s always a reason and understanding that these communities have been here, and what they are providing and what they want as well is very important. And knowing that distinction, you know. And unfortunately, this is the way of a lot of things that happen in the United States, but, you know, we saw what happened with Asian Americans during COVID. They still were othered, and they’ve been here for centuries as well. 

GONZALEZ: For generations. Yeah.

SHINNAWI: Yeah, so it’s a concept of the othering that continues, that needs to really shift with the mindset of how you write and develop curriculum.

GONZALEZ: You’ve given me a list of five resources as springboards at least for kind of making this shift. Did you want to describe any of these in particular that you find to be really good so that we can get people over to the site to look at the rest of them?

SHINNAWI: Sure. I mean, one of my favorites, well, there’s two that are my favorite. No. 1 is Remembering Manhattan’s Little Syria. And it’s very fascinating, because understanding that there are parts of New York or parts of other cities that were first started as immigrant communities for Arab Americans, right? And how they continued and what, how is, what is that legacy that they’ve left? And why is it important to really see, you know, New York is such a huge place for immigrants from all over the world. What was similar about Syrian experiences as opposed to Italians or Greeks or Jews or anybody else? I think that’s a really good one, and it also, again, shifts the narrative, because majority of them were Christian. They were not Muslim. So how did that really change? And how if we are in a Judeo-Christian nation, how are they still othered, even if they were Christian? Again, it’s all racialized. So people don’t understand how much of that they took in. One thing I would, I’m going to add to the resources is how Arabs became white, and that all comes down to a lawsuit in 1909 in California. A man named George Shishim, who was a cop, was arresting a, you know, a privileged man, and he said, “You can’t arrest me, you’re not white.” Takes it to court and at the time, you know, we have this whole concept of Darwinism and eugenics. And unless you’re white, you’re not considered a citizen at the time in the United States. He fights it, and he uses Jesus as an example. He’s like, “I’m a Christian. Jesus is from the Middle East. If Jesus is your god and savior and he’s white, that makes me white.” So also that takes into effect as to why Arabs on the Census haven’t been showing up, and how that’s impacted communities for over 100 years as well. So those are all little pieces that seem trivial, but they have a larger impact as to why Arab history has been overlooked, because they’ve been labeled incorrectly. But also, what were some of the pushbacks and concepts that people wanted to develop in order to show that we’re not taking this, and we are American, but we also don’t want to get rid of our own identities as well. I think that one I think would be one of the best to start and change with the mind shift.

GONZALEZ: Okay, that’s great. Yeah, let’s make sure we get that one in there. And I’m just thinking, you know, in terms of just being a kid sitting in a social studies class, like a ninth grader or whatever, to be able to dig into a resource like the ones that you described would be such a refreshing change of pace, would seem so relevant in terms of — you know, they are, most kids, I think are aware, whether you have much representation of Arab students in your school or in your community or not. It’s on the news and in the media. And so, but it’s still very much othered. And so bringing these stories so that these kids can have conversations and just see the richness and the diversity and just the complexity of this one broad umbrella of Arab is, would be so worthwhile. So thank you for all of that. So next is math, and we are going to be hearing from Fatma here. And so tell us, tell us what the current status is right now in terms of integrating this stuff into math, and what, what we can do to make a shift?

ELSAMRA: So with math, it’s a little bit different because obviously with ELA and social studies, it’s more deeply rooted, you know, with the history and the writing component. But with math, it’s important to bring in the history of mathematics. So the history of math started actually from an Arab, a mathematician scholar named Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, and he is actually known as the father of algebra for all of his contributions to algebra. So it’s important to recognize that, you know, when we teach students math — even at the young, at the younger age level — you know, to bring that history, and just for students to maybe, for example, look at, you know, the Arabic number system that was created by al-Khwarizmi and see the connection with how those numbers translated into the number system that we know today. So having something simple like that is integrating that history. And that’s very important for the students to know where, you know, where this is coming from. al-Khwarizmi also recognized the number zero. And that’s huge in math, and it’s important again for this to be brought up, because without the number zero, I mean math would be a complete disaster. So integrating that history and that piece in math lessons is just as important. And it shouldn’t only be integrated in math lessons. It should be integrated in social studies and history lessons as well. Like, I remember as a student reading like one line, you know, sentence about how al-Khwarizmi, you know, invented math or, you know, developed the number system or was the father of, you know, algebra. But that’s not enough. One line should not be, you know, the end all be all when it comes to, like, the inception of mathematics and how it came into fruition. So that’s one thing that’s important to bring back now. You know, you asked earlier, like, you know, how is math integrated now, you know, with the Arab narrative integrated now in math. It really isn’t. It really isn’t, and that’s why, you know, bringing that history in is one way of doing this. So I’ve been in the classroom for like over, you know, over 23 years, and there’s always been an emphasis on using math manipulatives in the classroom, right? So using fraction circles, base 10 blocks, whatever it is for those kinesthetic and those visual learners who need to touch and feel the material to conceptually understand skills, right? So the abacus is actually a math manipulative that was invented by the Babylonians who are now the, it’s the same region as Iraq. And that’s a math manipulative that can be brought back into the elementary classrooms where students can learn the four basic operations through using the abacus and understand, you know, conceptually, you know, what’s behind addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. So again as a math manipulative, that’s something that we can bring back into the classroom and have, you know, I know some schools still use it, but it’s not something that’s used often. So, you know, again, you never know what students can benefit from something like this. But also tying it into the history — 


ELSAMRA: — and how this is a tool that before calculators, before any of that, this is what mathematicians used to calculate the four basic operations or just do basic counting. And it can be brought back into the classroom as early as pre-K when students start learning how to count. They can use the abacus to help them.


ELSAMRA: So this is something. This is a tool that can be brought back into the classrooms. So I do have, I do have one more thing I’d like to share, and that’s, you know, for the older students and the study of geometry, right? So again, the Arabs had a big influence on the study of geometry and the inception of geometry, and it’s important to recognize that the Arab culture is infused with such beautiful architecture and patterns and vibrant colors and tessellations. And geometry is not just about statements and justifications. You have that piece of the patterns and the tessellations, and it’s important for geometry teachers to incorporate projects and activities where students can look into these patterns and tessellations and architecture through the Arabic world and the palaces and the mosques and the churches that were built in the Middle East. They carry such beautiful architecture, and bringing that through geometry would be such a beautiful thing for our students to see.

GONZALEZ: Right. And it’s just, it’s there for the taking now. It’s just, it’s a missed opportunity to not use that in some way. 

ELSAMRA: Absolutely, absolutely.

GONZALEZ: I’m also just, you know, I’m a product of the U.S. school system too, and I’m kind of gobsmacked right now by how much math comes from the Arab world. And really, I mean the one piece I got, you know, is that we call our numbers system Arabic numbers I think still. 

ELSAMRA: Right, right.

GONZALEZ: Apart from that, no knowledge. So there’s a whole lot of credit that, and I didn’t, I don’t think I understood that the abacus comes from, you know, the same region. 


GONZALEZ: And so it’s just, I’m basically experiencing this for the first time as a child of the American school system.

ELSAMRA: Yeah. It’s a shame. It really is a shame, and it shouldn’t be that way, because we incorporate studying history in so many things. But again, just like what Sawsan and Abeer said, the Arabs have been dismissed from a lot of this.


ELSAMRA: And it’s unfortunate because, because that’s not the reality. The reality is the Arabs did have a huge contribution to history and to the sciences, and I’m sure Reem’s going to go into that in a minute and, you know, and math. And recognizing that and knowing that is important. And imagine how a student feels, you know, who is an Arab student in the classroom and just being proud of their ancestors. 


ELSAMRA: And, you know, this is what my roots are coming from, and these are the people, and this is how they affected, you know, my studies today.


ELSAMRA: Because already, just like what Sawsan and Abeer said, that the Arab students aren’t feeling that connection or that appreciation or that value, and knowing that their ancestors had a lot to do with how things are run today in all content areas. You know, it would it definitely change their outlook on a lot of things.

GONZALEZ: Right. Are there any resources that you want to point out or highlight in this list that we’re going to be sharing?

ELSAMRA: There were two websites that I included that actually have engaging classroom activities all throughout, from elementary all the way to high school. So those two, you know, teachers can definitely look at and take whatever they’d like to use.


ELSAMRA: And yeah, if there’s anything else they need, you know, they can always reach out and we can give them more. 

GONZALEZ: Are these the combining strands of many colors? 

ELSAMRA: Yes, yes.

GONZALEZ: Is that the ones you’re referring to? Okay, so if someone’s listening and they’re looking through the list, that’s the one that you’re talking about. 

ELSAMRA: Yes, yes.

GONZALEZ: Got it. Thank you so much. 

ELSAMRA: Thank you. 

GONZALEZ: So the last content area is science, and Reem, you’re going to be talking with us about that.

FAKHRY: Oh boy. Okay, big shoes to fill as everybody has done such an amazing job. 


FAKHRY: I’m always honored to sit with these ladies and listen to everything that they talk about. It’s just so wonderful. So science. The fathers of modern day science. What can I say? So it always baffles me, so when I sit in my classes, the first question I always ask my students is, what do they think a scientist looks like? And on many levels, their answers always sadden me, because it’s always a white elderly man.


FAKHRY: So for my girls, when they leave my classes, I was always so happy because my girls always end up being scientists. 


FAKHRY: And I was always happy because they were the doctors, the pharmacists, of course, in our Arab culture. Ladies, you can correct me if I’m wrong. The number of engineers and doctors and pharmacists that we have coming out of our classrooms were always mega right? We had so many. And I have, I still have some of my girls reaching out to me telling me I am their lifelong teacher, even though I taught them how many years ago, maybe 10 years ago now. And they would tell me that they became scientists because of my class. And as you said, Abeer, if we don’t get them in middle school, we’ve lost them forever, because that’s, their curiosity is peak in elementary school. They come into middle school, if we can’t keep them engaged and curious, we’ve lost them for good, and that’s where they start seeing that elderly white man as the scientist, and we need to change that. Because if we look at who the fathers of modern science are, we realize that it’s been whitewashed. It’s been erased completely. Because at the time period of what we know of as the Dark Ages, we realize that history was, is now being taught through a Eurocentric lens only, and we’re only seeing what’s happening in the West. That’s it. We’re only seeing what’s happening in Europe. But if we turn our focus slightly to the East, we can now see that there is a Golden Age happening in the East, and we can see there we have innovations that are surpassing anything that could have been imagined. We’re seeing that there are scientists who have been able to identify the difference between measles and smallpox. We’re seeing that surgeries are happening, surgery that was not happening anywhere else on the globe. It was happening in the East. We’re seeing that sanitation measures were happening, so people were being able to overcome disease. That was not happening in the West. These are things that are happening only in the East. But somehow, here, we’re only learning about Dark Ages. Students aren’t learning about these things. And then just as the Dark Ages are starting to shift in the West, anything that was published in the East is now being translated into Latin. The names of the scientists are now being whitewashed and they’re Latinized. And all of a sudden Abbas Ibn Firnas who was an aviator, figured out how to fly, is now Armen Firman look him up. Who is Armen Firman? Look him up, you won’t know, because he doesn’t exist. He doesn’t exist. It was Abbas Ibn Firnas. And now the students are not learning this anymore, and the students are coming into science class, and they’re not learning about what happened during that time because it’s too old. It’s too ancient. It was whitewashed. The names are lost anyway, if they were going to learn about it. And all they’re learning about is what happened in Europe. It’s all Eurocentric. And it’s gone, completely erased. So even if I wanted to teach anything about what happened in Arabia, what I wanted to teach about in any of our world, in any of our area of Arabia, we wouldn’t be able to because it’s gone. Until one of my favorite resources, and it’s one of the things that brought all of this forward to me and it made me realize that I needed to push forward with this was — I think Sawsan and Fatma, you’ll remember this — but the “1001 Inventions.” When that came out that year, we did a whole school project. We got all of the kids active. And we had them all do their project based on different inventions from the East so that they got to see what inventors did in the East during what we commonly call the Dark Ages but was actually a Golden Age on the other side of the earth. So that they could see what was happening in this other area that was no longer being taught about. And there’s a whole film on it, and the website is in the resource that we have on your website. It’s all there for them to learn.

GONZALEZ: You know, the thread that I’m hearing throughout all four of these areas is identity, and it has so much to do with, you know, obviously all of our non-Arab students, just being aware of where so many of these important things came from, but then especially our Arab students, having more of a sense of pride and identity in terms of, look at all of these amazing things that have come into the world, you know, because of my ancestors.

FAKHRY: Absolutely. For all of us, just being able to see ourselves in the world around us. It’s not just me. I’m not alone.


JABER: And I think that the saddest part of it is that so much of the contributions have been appropriated and stolen, right? And what’s been, what they’ve been replaced with is this narrative of violence. 


JABER: And like Abeer said, the fact that no matter how many generations of Arabs are here, you are by research Banks says a perpetual foreigner. So you’ll never belong here, and that’s a reality that kids have to face. I think the first thing that oftentimes we hear when people want to be aggressive is, “Go back to your country,” right? And even though I think all of us were born and raised here, we’ve all been here. We have kids here. If you’re not first or second generation, you know, you still, you’re still being told to go back to your country because of your physical identity, your physical markers. And so I think there’s so much that needs to happen to really just kind of normalize the narrative in positive ways and throughout all of these content areas, so that people can start to shift that perspective of the idea that our values are in constant contention with and contend with the American values. But they are really things that we are using every single day and we’re seeing all around us. I went to an exhibit in Texas with my daughters a couple weeks ago, and it was Cartier, was a whole Cartier exhibit, and the exhibit was how Cartier culturally appropriated Arab art in all of his designs. And it was amazing to me because I’m an Arab and I never ever heard that or knew that. But when looking at it, and they showed that, they showed the actual, like, the architecture from the Arab world, and then the pieces of jewelry that he made and everything else that were inspired by the architecture. And how he sold all of that but never gave credit to the Arab people for everything that inspired him for his entire career. So we know, everybody knows Cartier, but nobody knows the Arab contribution to Cartier. So I think the appropriation of the sciences and the maths and astrology and medicine and all of these different contributions that have a very heavy Arab and Muslim hand, and not giving that credit to or at least having the conversation so that we can see that different light of academia, of scholarship, of art, of poetry, of novels, of writing, of all of these different beautiful things that are very much a part of the culture and really start to shift and bring this other perspective in. And it’s going to take, all of us have been socialized by the same system educators have. As an Arab, those are things that I have to go out and learn, right? And that’s my own culture. So for other people who aren’t even a part of that culture, those are things that they have to go, they have to do unlearning before they can learn so that they can actually package that properly and bring it into the classroom. Because although we call it well-intentioned harm, the impact is still really great right? And I think well-intentioned harm, to me, is more harmful and impactful than harm itself, because you think you’re doing well so you’re running with it. 


JABER: But you’re hurting kids in the process. And so I think we need to be really careful about doing the work first before we can take any of these conversations and bring them with fidelity and authenticity and intentionality to our students in the classroom.

GONZALEZ: Right. So before we wrap up, does anybody else have a sort of final thought that you’d like to share just about this whole topic as a whole?

SHINNAWI: I think gatekeepers need to stop being gatekeepers and, you know, Dr. Bettina Love really analyzed it perfectly by saying, you know, there are allies and then there are co-conspirators. We need more co-conspirators. Allies, you can stand on the peripheral and say, “Oh yeah, that’s, that’s not great. We got to do something.” And nothing happens. As a co-conspirator, you are the gatekeepers opening the door wide open, and I think it’s important for people to really be intentional, whether you’re from that culture or not. There’s a statistic about how many people who are reporters, majority of course are white men. But there’s this artist that I’ve followed in Hadjadj who writes about Arabic music now. It’s really up and up. But he talks about how the impact — because journalism is so steeped in that particular mindset — people from other areas like Arab artists are not going to get the light of day because they’re either exoticized or they’re not even thought of. Where we have an artist who’s going to be singing in total Arabic at Coachella, which is one of the largest, you know, music venues around, but we don’t know about that because, again, gatekeepers are not allowing these ideas to be infiltrated into the rest of media. We see students who want to do it. Allow the students to really introduce you to these ideas. My own personal children have learned a lot about other cultures, in a good way, because when you have social media, you have people who have that lived experience on a platform talking about themselves and their culture and what you can and can’t do. And I think if we allow students to share what they’ve learned that way, I think it’s very powerful. And a quick story about what Sawsan’s saying about othering as well. “Go back to your country.” When I was teaching middle school, I had a kid who obviously didn’t like me, for whatever reasons he wanted to. And he got into an argument with other students, because they got into an argument about me, and he was like to the students, “Well, she needs to go back to her country,” and the kids are like, “What are you talking about? She’s from Chicago.” Right? So it really, it really matters, because kids will step up, but kids will, you know, call you out or pull you in if they know that you’re being intentional. So I really always put the onus on the gatekeepers, you know, Sawsan and I and Fatma and Reem could talk here forever. But if we don’t have those co-conspirators, I don’t think the work is really going to be done with fidelity.

GONZALEZ: Right, right. Thank you, Abeer. Anybody else? Reem or Fatma, anything to say?

ELSAMRA: I just want to add one thing. You know, Abeer mentioned right now that it’s important for, you know, the students, the students will be stepping up and they will, you know, promote the social justice and everything, but it’s important for the teachers to be willing to listen and open up to all of this as well. Because without that, then whatever the student is doing is meaningless. So, you know, my message to the teachers is don’t be afraid to take risks, no matter how challenging administration might be. But it’s important to get to the root of this and really listen to these students and value who they are and what they bring to the table.

GONZALEZ: It’s a great point. Yeah, it can’t happen unless the teachers are also in it.

ELSAMRA: Absolutely.

FAKHRY: And I just wanted to add, I’m sorry, because I know we keep saying the students and the students and the students. Being the mom of one of those students, they are not going to take that first step unless they know the teachers are holding their hands. The teacher has to take that first step. The teacher has to do that research, and the teacher has to be the one that’s willing to start because students aren’t, they don’t want to teach the teacher, like Sawsan had said before. They don’t want to teach the teacher. They are kids. They want to be kids. They want to feel like they are the ones being taught. Even though yeah, they have the knowledge, they have the understanding, they are the ones with the innate understanding because they’re living it. But they’re not the teachers. They don’t want to sit there. They’re vulnerable. They don’t want to put themselves in that position in front of their classmates, in front of people they may like, or people they may not like, or people that may already be bullying them, or people that maybe, you know, that maybe they want to impress in other ways. You don’t, they don’t want to put themselves out there. 


FAKHRY: They may be afraid to. So even if they feel safe with the teacher, they may not feel safe in front of the students.

GONZALEZ: Yeah, you’re absolutely right.

FAKHRY: It’s something you really have to be aware of, and it’s a very touchy situation when we say the students are going to step up and the students are — not necessarily. 

GONZALEZ: It sounds like you have, there’s a lot of groundwork that has to happen to ever get to that point. 

FAKHRY: A lot, yes.


JABER: And I’m going to add, Jenn, just as a final little tiny thing. Also, I think teachers in general just need to also check their own social circles outside of school. Because I think that’s one of the things that I’ve really, in a lot of the equity work that I’m doing nationally like when asking people, go out and have a conversation with somebody who doesn’t look like you. Oftentimes teachers will come back and say, “I realize that I don’t have anybody who doesn’t look like me in my social circle.” You can’t humanize people and really create those authentic relationships if everybody who you surround yourself with, when you have a choice to position yourself, you position yourself with people who look like you, who are from the same socioeconomic demographic, ethnicity and everything else. Diversify your social circles, because that will impact how you show up in a school space, period. 


JABER: And I think if you’re talking about equity, and you really are being equitable, it’s a stance. It’s not something you turn on and off. I can’t walk into a classroom and write an equitable lesson plan. I’m either equitable and thinking about equity, and it’s a lifestyle for me, and that means how I show up in my social circles, how I show up in my my kids’ district, how I show up in my workspace, how I think about everything. It’s a stance, and it’s something that we need to think about all the time, because that impacts when I stand up in front of a group of students who don’t look like me, that’s going to impact how I interact with them all the time. So diversify your social circles. I think we have to all start there because of the redlining in our country. By default, we’re segregated and we’re siloed. So we have to be intentional about really being social with people who look different than us and that by itself is going to diminish so much of the thing, so much of what we’re seeing socially in our communities today. Like Abeer said, these are the gatekeepers. If you don’t have an understanding of how important it is for you to appreciate diversity in your own personal life, how are you going to come sing that tune in class? 


JABER: It’s not going to happen. And I can’t, I always say, like, if I’m standing in front of my kids, I can’t ask them to do something that I’m not actually doing myself. It has to start with me. I have to be able to be vulnerable and leverage my own experiences as somebody who is in community with all of these diverse people in my regular life for me to kind of talk about, “Oh, here’s what I experienced with this person. Here’s what I experienced with this friend.” So they can see that modeled. I can’t stand up and ask them to really embrace each other if in my own personal life I only surround myself with people who look like me.

GONZALEZ: Right, right.

FAKHRY: That word that you said though really triggered me when you said siloed. We teach in silos, and I saw it so much when I was traveling around the country. I went to North Carolina and I saw it. I went to Texas I saw it. I went to Colorado I saw it. I went to the Bahamas and I saw it. I went to Bermuda and I saw it. I went to Jamaica and I saw it. We teach in silos. It doesn’t matter what my silo looks like, but I, everybody teaches in a silo, and everybody asks me when I write a curriculum or I align a curriculum or I standardize something, they’re asking me to align it to their own specific region. And because I do it with science and with STEM, I’m always looking at them, and I tell them, “But science is global.” If I’m talking about gravity, gravity is the same no matter where I am. Granted, it’s going to change whether I’m on the top of a mountain or I’m at sea level or I’m at, you know, below sea level. But that’s what I’m going to teach. I’m not going to teach because you’re on an island or you’re in the middle of a city or you’re, you know, in the suburb somewhere. Gravity is gravity, and that’s not going to change. I cannot regionalize gravity. I cannot regionalize pH. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t work. I’m a microbiologist by study. I cannot regionalize bacteria. It’s bacteria.


FAKHRY: It does not get regionalized. Science is global. But that’s what they wanted to do. So we cannot silo ourselves, whether it’s you’re talking, you know, grade level or you’re talking vertical and you’re doing it in social studies. We need to all talk as a school, school-wide, grade-wide, you know, discipline-wide. Everybody’s got to talk everywhere so that we can all understand what our problems are and we can overcome them.

GONZALEZ: Thank you for that. Thank you all so much for coming on here, sharing your experiences and your knowledge and your expertise. I hope this is going to influence, you know, a lot of, particularly the gatekeepers, who have some decision-making power on this and also just inspire the teachers to make more of an effort in all of these areas. So thank you so much.

SHINNAWI: Thank you. 

JABER: Thank you for always using your platform to do this work. We appreciate you.

GONZALEZ: I appreciate you too. 

ELSAMRA: Thank you.

For links to tons of resources that can help you weave Arab narratives into your classroom and a full transcript of our conversation, visit, click Podcast, and choose episode 210. To get a bimonthly email about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.