Nashville School Board in US to vote on adding Kurdish language courses

“Americans want to learn Kurdish, and we want to teach Americans about our culture and our language.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In an effort to preserve the Kurdish language, the Kurdish community in Nashville, United States, has proposed that high schools in the city teach students Kurdish.

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board will vote on Tuesday on whether to include the Kurdish language in a list of international languages available to students for credit.

After months of proposals from Nashville’s large Kurdish community, educators from the metro school board have pledged their support.

Nashville, located in the US state of Tennessee, is known for its sizeable Kurdish population and has even earned the nickname “Little Kurdistan.” Over 1,100 Kurdish students from different parts of the city attend public schools in Nashville.

Dr. Haidar Khezri, a Visiting Faculty member and Resident Senior Fellow in the Kurdish Political Studies Program (KPSP) at the University of Central Florida, initiated and led the process of designing a Kurdish language course for the Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Khezri said the “long journey” began in the summer of 2016, and expressed his gratefulness that “it is already bearing fruit.”

“So far, this is the first and most important step toward including Kurdish language studies in K-12 schools in the United States,” he told Kurdistan 24. “It brings an end to decades of unjustified neglect of the Kurdish language in the United States.”

The Kurdish language courses will help Kurdish immigrants “maintain a connection with their Kurdish heritage, and prepare American students for a global society,” Khezri added.

Nawzad Hawrami (left), Haidar Khezri, and Jill Petty (third from left) at the Salahadeen Center of Nashville, Nov. 19, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Nawzad Hawrami (left), Haidar Khezri, and Jill Petty (third from left) at the Salahadeen Center of Nashville, Nov. 19, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

Nawzad Hawrami, director of the Salahadeen Center of Nashville, who sent the proposal to a school board member, believes Kurdish language courses would create more career opportunities for students.

“If Kurdish is taught in schools, students will have an opportunity to seek a career in international relations and can work at diplomatic offices here in the United States, such as in the United Nations,” Hawrami told Kurdistan 24.

He also said the Kurdish courses would help young Kurds learn about their culture and language and contribute to the greater Kurdish communities around the world.

According to Jill Petty, Coordinator for English Language Arts and World Languages for metro schools, students who learn in their native languages can become more literate in other languages.

“Research has shown that when a student is literate in his or her own native language, it helps them become literate in a new language faster, such as English,” Petty told Nashville Public Radio. “That would actually help them in the long run.”

Hawrami told Kurdistan 24 that the pre-approved proposal had been well-received from Kurds as well as Americans. “Americans want to learn Kurdish, and we want to teach Americans about our culture and our language,” he said.

“We are all Americans. We are here [in the US], and we are here to stay. We want to exercise our right to learn and practice our language. We want to be able to vote and contribute to American society through our language.”

The Kurdish community director said there are plans to offer a Kurdish language course at Nashville State Community College in the summer in cooperation with Indiana State University, which offers its students a Kurdish course.

Hawrami said if the decision is approved, there will be opportunities for all Kurdish dialects to be available to students.

“After a decision is made, the Kurdish community will meet to decide which dialects to teach depending on the number of students. But there are opportunities for all dialects.”

A vote will be held at 5 p.m. local time (2 a.m. Erbil time) on Tuesday. If the school board clears the proposal, it will go to Tennessee state for approval. If approved, individual schools will decide whether they have enough students interested before they offer the classes.