Brendan Work '10 Recognized for Teaching Arabic Language, Culture
Missoulian: 20 Under 40: Work educates to increase understanding, reduce Islamophobia
Closing in on the end of the school year, the students in Brendan Work's ['10] class are selecting superhero names in Arabic.
That's one tiny thing the 17 teenagers will do as a homework assignment at Hellgate High School [in Missoula, Montana].
Later, maybe at home, the students who are learning the Arabic language and culture may share their knowledge with their parents when a television news report broadcasts a story about Syria or Iraq.
Maybe much later, they'll use their learning to help others understand, too.
"It's no secret that Arabic is understood as an enemy language and has been portrayed that way for years," Work said. "Since 9/11 most significantly, but even before that, there have been negative images of the Middle East and Arabs and Muslims just about everywhere you look in the media and popular culture.
"And exploring in a positive way the culture and history of the Middle East I think has a transformative effect on students as they become socially and politically active and as they influence others' opinions."
During some lectures, he speaks Arabic 75 percent to 80 percent of the time, and the students banter with him as well. He writes on the white board in delicate and graceful script, in lettering that "comes toward your heart."
"When you look at Arabic letters, you are experiencing how beautiful a language can look for the first time often, because we just don't have that experience with English," Work said.
Myrt Westphal, retired associate dean for student life at Swarthmore College, said Work is an example of "personal intellectual excellence and a symbol of international engagement." Westphal knew Work when he attended Swarthmore, and the retired associate dean now lives in Missoula.
"I think he is a role model for our young people in how he lives his beliefs," Westphal said in her nomination of Work for this series. "I think it (is) important to celebrate young educators, to encourage others to follow in those footsteps and remind residents that educators are part of our economic enterprise."
Brendan Work '10 graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in comparative literature. He worked as a journalist in Palestine before becoming an Arabic teacher at Missoula County Public Schools. He was recently profiled in The Bulletin.