Fairuz or Amr Diab?: An Approach to Choosing Arabic Educational Material

After sitting in on the Arabic educators’ group for the first three days of Al-Bustan’s Arab Arts and Culture Course, I saw the group continue to return to the question: “how do we choose Arabic songs or poems for our classes?” While there was definitely some disagreement, they seemed to arrive at the conclusion that we need to have a clear goal when choosing a song, and that the song should be integrated across other class syllabi. Yes, it is obvious that the teacher needs to have an intention when they create a lesson plan. But if you, like me, have ever taken an Arabic class you have probably heard at least a few songs whose names, lyrics, and themes you don’t remember. On one hand, that may be the fault of the song itself by not properly keeping our attention, but on the other, if the teacher and the students know what they were supposed to focus on, then everyone would probably maintain their attention better.
Music Director Hanna Khoury teaches Arabic/Music educators
“Nassam Alayna-l Hawa,” composed by Rahbani Brothers
As for these teacher’s intention, there are nearly endless possibilities, many of which are contradictory. Take this group, for instance, some teachers want to emphasize Modern Stand Arabic and traditional Arab music, and others focus on dialects and the current mainstream music. For example, if someone falls into the former group, they should pick a song that contains fusha and has non-electronic instruments. All the intention directive asks is that teachers are conscious and deliberate when they pick a song for their curriculum.

Perhaps more important than all of this is that, if possible, the Arabic teacher coordinates with their fellow teachers to include the song in classes that aren’t their own. Personally, I wish my school had done something like this when I attended. To illustrate what I am talking about when there is a unit on the Arab world in school, the music class, history class, and English literature class would all work together to educate holistically. History class could speak to the historical context, music might do a crash course on Arabic rhythm, literature could analyze the poetry for its rhyme and meter, while Arabic class would explain the meaning of the words and their correct pronunciation. This sort of structure allows teachers to broaden students’ understanding of a single piece of Arab culture.


I am only a student of Arabic, and as such have not come into contact with the obstacles of teaching something like a Fairuz song. That said, I can speak to the fact that directed readings of poetry and a deeper understanding of a text have always left me with a longer-lasting impression of that specific part of Arabic culture. Hopefully, all you teachers out there might able to incorporate something like this into your classes, be them Arabic, music, history, or literature.

Max Dugan
Kenyon College, ’14
Summer Intern

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