Arab Culture Through Literature and Film

Presented by Portland State University and the Qatar Foundation International

About the Curriculum:

This curriculum was created out of a need we saw to educate  students about the Arab world in a constructive fashion that exposes them to the voices from the region and highlights both its unity and diversity. The curriculum is designed to foster critical thinking about the region and encourages questions more than it provides answers.

Each unit is based on a set of enduring understandings and curriculum framing questions which should guide the teacher through the materials.  Each lesson contains the following:

  • Enduring understandings
  • Curriculum framing questions
  • Objectives
  • Common Core State Standards and National Standards for Foreign Language Education
  • Materials needed for the lesson
  • Detailed implementation instructions
  • Tools for assessment and evaluation
  • Homework assignments

While the curriculum can certainly be used in whole, each lesson is designed as a stand-alone unit and can be used as such.  We encourage you to select the lessons and units that are relevant to your classroom and make any changes or adaptations necessary for your students.

The curriculum is based on the following Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions:

Enduring Understandings

  • There is a shared culture across the Arab world that takes on various forms as it is interpreted and lived in diverse contexts.
  • Religion, ethnicity, and gender are key factors that define the identity of people in the Arab world and impact their experiences.
  • Perceptions and behaviors are inextricably intertwined with their culture and work together to inform one’s world view.
  • Literature, film and other primary resources from the Arab world offer deep insights into the reality of the region.

Essential Questions

  • What is the role of culture in shaping perception and behavior?
  • How do individual and local identities contribute to broader shared cultures and vice-versa?
  • What is identity and what informs it?
  • How does identity inform someone’s power and agency in society?
  • What insights can art and literature offer about the culture in which they were produced?

This curriculum was written by Elisheva Cohen and Ruth McDonough for the Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University with funding from the Qatar Foundation International

About the Authors

Elisheva Cohen is the Outreach Coordinator for the Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University. She works with teachers throughout the country to support education about the Middle East at the K-12 level. She holds a Master’s Degree from Columbia University Teachers College in International Educational Development, a Bachelor’s Degree from Columbia University in Middle Eastern Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Hebrew Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Elisheva served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco for two years and has lived, studied, and traveled in other parts of the region including Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.

Ruth McDonough is a secondary school Arabic language teacher in New England. After graduating from Swarthmore College with a BA in Religion and Peace and Conflict Studies in 2008, Ruth went on to spend time in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and Syria. Since beginning her teaching career in 2009, she has lead programs in Morocco and Jordan for American high school students. She is currently working toward a Masters in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language at Middlebury College with a focus on cultural content in language classes. She has been serving as a curriculum consultant for the Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University.

About the Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University

The Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University promotes understanding of the people, cultures, languages and religions of the Middle East. As a National Resource Center for Middle East Studies under the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI program, the Center serves as a resource on issues pertaining to the Middle East through activities that reach students and scholars, as well as businesses, educators, and the media.

The Middle East Studies Center supports education about the Middle East at the K-12 level through a variety of services and activities. The Center promotes a critical understanding of the region with programs that reflect its diversity and provide insight into the histories, cultures, languages, religions, politics and contemporary issues of the Middle East. The Center offers other free programs for educators, including day-long workshops, consulting services, lesson plan development, speaker referrals, and a monthly e-newsletter. The Middle East Studies Center also maintains a resource library with free borrowing privileges for the public.  For more information about the Center’s support for educators, click here.

What People are Saying about Arab Culture through Literature and Film:

  • ‘I believe that this curriculum is invaluable and has great potential for dynamic student learning.’
  • ‘What is most evident to me is that Arab Culture Through Literature and Film is a carefully created high school curriculum whose time has come in this current world climate, erasing fear through study, friendship and familiarity.’
  • ‘I am looking forward to implementing these lessons in my future classroom. They are clear, concise and very well-organized.’
This project was made possible through support and funding from Qatar Foundation International (QFI). A not-for-profit organization, QFI, LLC is a U.S.-based member of Qatar Foundation (QF) and is focused on grant-giving and programmatic activities that promote education as a force that facilitates collaboration across geographical, social and cultural boundaries. To learn more about QFI and the Arab Language and Culture program, please visit: http://qfi.org/list/180/2/Arabic-Language-&-Culture

Permissions Information

This curriculum has been made available online for educational purposes only and may be freely copied and distributed for that purpose. Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint material copyrighted by them:

“At the Border”, by Choman Hardi. From Life for Us, by Choman Hardi. Bloodaxe Books, 2004. Used with permission of the publisher.

Diwan Baladna, by Ahmad Azaban. Copyright Ahmad Azaban, 2010. Select excerpts used with permission of the author.

Free People: The Imazighen of North Africa, by Nuunja Kahina. Intercontinental Magazine, 2013. http://intercontinentalcry.org/free-people-the-imazighen-of-north-africa/ Used with permission of the author and publisher.

“The Highway Robber,” by Marun ‘Abboud and translated by Salwa Jabsheh and Christopher Tingley . From Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Columbia University Press, 2005.

“The Iceberg” a lesson by Peace Corps World Wise Schools. Used with permission from World Wise Schools. http://wws.peacecorps.gov/wws/educators/lessonplans/lesson.cfm?lpid=246&gid=1

“In Search of an Address” by Ibrahim Aslan, translated by Sharif Elmusa and Christopher Tingley. From Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Columbia University Press, 2005. Used with permission of the translator.

“Invasion”, by Choman Hardi. From Life for Us, by Choman Hardi. Bloodaxe Books, 2004. Used with permission of the publisher.

“The Next Step,” by Daisy al-Amir, translated by Sharif Elmusa and Thomas G Ezzy. From Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Columbia University Press, 2005. Used with permission of the translator.

“Um Ya’qub’s Chickens,” by Mikha’il Nu’aima, translated by Admer Gouryeh and Naomi Shihab Nye. From Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Columbia University Press, 2005. Used with permission of the translator.

“Zinah” by Mubarak Rabi’, translated by Aida A. Bamia and Naomi Shihab Nye. From Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Columbia University Press, 2005. Used with permission of the translator.

Sykes-Picot Map, by Michael Izady. Columbia University, Gulf/2000. Reproduced with permission by Gulf/2000. http://gulf2000.columbia.edu/maps.shtml

Sykes-Picot Agreement. Reproduced with permission from the Avalon Project of the Lillian Goldman Law Library of the Yale Law School. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/sykes.asp

Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. If notified, we will be happy to rectify any errors or omissions and include any such rectifications in future editions.

We would like to thank the following for their kind permission to link to their work:

“Is Pink Pink in Saudi Arabia,” by Lisa Wade. Sociological Images, 2008. Linked with permission from Lisa Wade and Sociological Images. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/03/08/is-pink-pink-in-saudi-arabia/

“The Middle East or the Middle World,” by Tamim Ansary. The Globalist, 2009. Linked with permission from Richard Walker, the Globalist. http://www.theglobalist.com/the-middle-east-or-the-middle-world/

The Arab Table, by May Bsisu. Harper Collins Publishing, 2005. Linked with permission from Harper Collins Publishers. http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780060586140