Thursday, October 12, 2006

What's the answer?

Once a week, on Thursdays, I volunteer to help with Allison's second grade class. The teacher sends them out in groups for with their chapter books and I listen to them read. What's interesting is to hear the Hispanic children navigate the English. It is obvious from their pronunciation that some learned to read in Spanish first. How difficult it must be to have to think in two languages. But I don't feel sorry for them, I recognize the advantage they have--to be bilingual and to have it be encouraged. There is no longer the stigma to being a second language learner, at least not at Silverthorne Elementary where half the students are Hispanic.

Every notice from the school that comes home is printed in English and Spanish. There is also a Spanish translator at the school to deal with the Hispanic parents. All this is especially interesting to me after spending our time in Mexico with a first grader in Mexican school. We were so lost. There was absolutely no help for her, but we didn't expect any either. Allison really had to integrate break-speed. What I came away with was the experience of being an outsider, a foreigner.

I haven't formed an opinion about any of this. I'm just studying it and wondering which way is best to promote assimilation into American culture. On one hand I think it is kind to make things easier for the Hispanic schoolchildren. Their self esteem and comfort is put foremost. One the other, it takes a lot of money and resources to accommodate them. What I am wondering is if this consideration best serves the nation as a whole, because it doesn't stop with elementary school, it seems to be continuing into common culture. Everywhere there are signs of Spanish taking a front seat next to English. I'm not the first to pay attention to this development, but just a witness to the process of early accommodation in primary grades. But how could we do otherwise? When you have half the student body whose first language is Spanish, how do you ignore their needs?

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