Amanda Najib Ibrahim is a teacher in a progressive independent school. Her current work focuses on anti-bias critical pedagogy with a focus on disparities in schools. Amanda enjoys watching how a progressive education can transform students from passive listeners into navigators of their own learning with a lifelong passion to learn.
What is your migration story?
My immigration story is not unlike many first-generation Palestinian Americans. My parents were both born in the Middle East, my mother in Amman, Jordan but originally from Nablus, Palestine, and my father in Hizma, Palestine, just a few kilometers away from Jerusalem.
My father came here for college with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket, no family or support system, and a basic grasp of the language. When I think back to his immigration to the US I’m often in awe of how much he accomplished all by himself. My parents were always conscious of staying true to our culture and my brothers and I were and are proud Palestinian-Americans. Growing up, my parents made sure to always acknowledge how much privilege we had being American citizens and they emphasized how education was the key to our future. It’s this upbringing that inspired me to attend Rutgers University and Teachers College, Columbia University.
Why did you choose education?
I choose education to help reimagine what inclusive progressive education could look like. My personal experience in school was definitely challenging. I grew up in an upper-middle-class, predominantly white school. My brothers and I were one of two Palestinian families in town, none of us in the same grade. Growing up we all constantly had to justify our existence. Whether it was Social Studies, and being told to just say we were from Jordan or being told in High School History class that Palestine was not a country. Looking back at how thick-skinned and outspoken I had to be in school at such a young age leaves me wanting so much more for future generations. No child should feel a constant need to justify their existence. My journey to education stemmed from a want to do better for our children.
What influence does your identity have on your work?
Organizing around the Palestinian cause while studying at Rutgers University solidified my understanding and desire to become a teacher. It has always been clear to me that education needs to meet kids where they are, not only academically, but culturally and emotionally. Having kids be honored and heard is at the forefront of my pedagogy.
What would you like others to know about Arab-Americans?
The most important thing for others to know about Arab-Americans is just how ingrained we are in American society. Arabs have been in America since the 1800s, yet we are still seen as being foreign to the Country. Arab-Americans have written legislation, influenced music, and helped spearhead the mass distribution of the Covid Vaccine. We are such an integral part of the American fabric and don’t get acknowledgment or recognition.
Why is it important to you that students see themselves in the curriculum and/or day-to-day school environment?
It is imperative students are able to see themselves in the curriculum and feel a part of the classroom community. Sharing stories, history, and literature that’s inclusive of many types of people benefits all students. It helps us all understand the world around us, it develops critical thinking skills and an intrinsic want to know more. It’s critical for students to see themselves in our classroom materials because schools are where so much of a child’s identity is formed and where they foster a sense of belonging outside their homes.
Specifically for Arab-Americans, seeing ourselves in day to day school environments helps to combat so much of the anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiments in the world. Whether it’s on TV, in the media, or in our own history books, Arabs have been vilified and tokenized for decades. One way to combat this is to have more representation in curriculum.
What actions would you recommend to help build more inclusive communities around Arab Americans?
There is this common, rather truthful “joke” in Arab communities that our parents expect us to be doctors, lawyers or engineers; and while our parents mean so well and have given up so much for this life they’ve given us here, I challenge that notion. My recommendations for more inclusive communities is to encourage your children to be anything and everything. We need more Arab athletes, writers, artists, actors. While there are some already doing absolutely incredible things. Encouraging each other to follow our passions will help show the world how diverse and creative we are. The Arab story isn’t one of just suffering and war, there is such rich culture and such passion.