UH seminar broadens cultural outlook on Arabs
Audrey Shabbas was teaching teachers how to shatter stereotypes, such as linking Arabs with terrorism.
Since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, demand for Shabbas' services have maintained a steady pace, she said.
The national speaker with an international reputation for increasing Arab-American understanding is coming to the University of Hawaii July 10-12 to hold a workshop, "Content Strategies for Teaching About the Arab World and Islam." Registration for the $200 course will be accepted up to July 9.
The workshop is designed to help teachers of grades six through 12 understand and teach on a complex subject usually covered in only one chapter of standard history textbooks, Shabbas said in a phone interview.
But the course should appeal to any member of the public, the clergy, Muslims and the media who want to look beyond the stereotypes, she said.
Shabbas said she has had personal experience of how "off base stereotypes can be," being a Muslim as well as a descendant of the Mayflower pilgrims. People usually react with surprise to learn she is a Muslim, given her racial ancestry and because she chooses not to cover her head, as some Islamic texts recommend.
In her 22 years of teaching about the Middle East and Islam, it is common for her to be invited to schools where Muslims have experienced public backlash. In January 2005, she held a week of programs in New Orleans as the result of a racist incident: "A high school teacher had whipped the head scarf off a (Arabic) girl and wiped his feet on it," Shabbas said. The community and other teachers urged action by the school superintendent, who brought in Shabbas to conduct a workshop as part of the solution.
Shabbas uses a variety of "low-tech" teaching methods to generate "great excitement" about her subject, with a lot of hands-on opportunities. She doesn't just lecture.
The price of the course includes a wealth of teaching materials produced by her nonprofit agency, AWAIR (Arab World and Islamic Resources), in Berkeley, Calif. The workshops are sponsored free of charge by Georgetown University's Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Relationships.
Typical workshops include topics such as cultural geography, history, family and women. Ample time is given to discussing impressions of the Arab world, the broader Middle East and the world of Islam. Special attention is paid to teaching strategies. Workshops may be scheduled by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (510) 704-0517.
The three-day workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Marine Science Building, Room 114 on the UH-Manoa campus. For more information, visit UH's Outreach College Web site at www.outreach.hawaii.edu/summer, or call 956-7221.