Access to information on the history, religion, geography, culture, politics and contemporary society of the countries of the Middle East is limited in most American public school classrooms. Considering the United States’ core interests in the region, as well as the ongoing conflict and instability taking place there, the gap in primary and secondary school curriculum can leave young people unprepared to join conversations about critical global issues. This Middle East illiteracy puts young scholars at a disadvantage in higher education and the eventual job market as they struggle to comprehend key relationships, dynamics, policies, and practices.
Why has this region, so distant geographically, been of such interest to the West, and particularly to the United States? The fact is, current events in the region necessitate sustained attention and, if appropriate, policies and responses, and there are no signs of this reality changing anytime soon. In order to become active global citizens, students must understand what led to and what will result from, among other developments, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the resulting humanitarian disaster involving hundreds of thousands of refugees; the shifting alliances and adversaries that have challenged American ideals and ethics; the Iranian nuclear negotiations and a possible détente in the frozen relations between the Republic and its neighbors, near and far; and the 60-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict. These are not disconnected, mysterious situations but are rooted in a complex web of competing interests, values and policies, in which both domestic and international actors, including the United States, have played a strong role.
If they aren’t exposed to information in their classrooms, students need access to outside resources to gain familiarity with the Middle East and its importance, locally, nationally, and globally. In this section, students can explore a variety of websites and tools to get beyond the stereotypes and understand the region in concrete details. We encourage students to delve into the history and culture of this vast and diverse region through film, fiction, and interactive websites. Be sure to look at the Middle East in Focus section for essays and articles on different subjects such as art and religion.