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Bilingualism is Inevitable, So What’s the Problem?

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 in Featured, School |

Bilingualism is Inevitable, So What’s the Problem?

The kids sang and celebrated, paper painted signs hung from the balcony and Colombian music played in the courtyard. From where I stood, this was one heck of a celebration — our teacher had been named the California Bilingual Educator of the Year! I couldn’t stop smiling and watching the Latino children playing and dancing with their white-faced buddies, completely unaware of the minefield around them. Overheard in the hum of the singing and dancing was a parent blurting out, “You’d think we were the minority here,” while another across the yard was heard saying, “It’s not Cinco de Mayo, is it?”

Well, Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Whites are the minority at our San Jose Unified school, just like other awesome schools in the area, including the renowned Cupertino school district where the Asian population far surpasses that of the white community. And, many of these children are learning in two languages like their European counterparts who master at least bilingualism by age 12. Having children who are bilingual statistically leads to all kind of rad stuff — from advanced math skills, music comprehension and higher AP scores. It leads children to be multi-cultural too. You can bet my half-Mexican butt that no parent with children enrolled in Two Way Bilingual Immersion would ever consider saying the derogatory kind of things parents are overheard saying. What is the problem?

I started my children in Spanish Immersion in Kindergarten. I expected a delay in language skills. Instead my children read at over 90 percent comprehension in both English and Spanish on advanced levels. I expected a lack of integration with schoolmates not enrolled in the Spanish Immersion program. Instead I found my children to be playground ambassadors. I expected my children to resent learning in Spanish when neighborhood buddies got off easy and learned in English only. Instead, my children tout their Spanish-language learning as an elite class.

Of all the things I expected, the backlash from parents unhappy with the Spanish Immersion program at their school was not only unexpected, it was shocking. As a parent, I find myself between two worlds: that where my neighborhood mommies drink Starbucks and get their nails done, and, those neighborhood mommies who wipe the floors at night at the same shops in order to make rent. I find myself championing for a culture that seems as much a part of our community as the other. I live in Limbo between these two worlds.

I’m no fool. I understand that socio-economic status and ethnicity go hand-in-hand here in San Jose and that it’s the expendable-income families that truly make the school go-round. They offer intellectual wealth beyond their financial wealth. They are educated and value education. They contribute time, treasure and talent. Those things are the differentiators at our school that make it a great place to be. Here, in a state where public education is suffering exponentially, we rely incredibly heavily on the families that have something to spare. Our children’s futures rely on it.

But the truth is this: California has nearly as many Spanish-speakers as English-speakers. We are becoming a bilingual state. What else is true is that many Latino families in San Jose just can’t give to their schools in the same way we can. There are few gifts that English-learning families can offer to our local schools. They don’t have the time to give (two jobs!) or the treasure to give. But there is talent to give. And one of those things is helping our English-only children learn Spanish fluently. It’s a special and important way these families can give back to their community, their school, their classmates.

I truly do not understand why bilingual education in San Jose isn’t more embraced. What can be the downside? Better educated, more well-rounded, bilingual, biliterate, bicultured children? I’ll take that risk.

Original post to SV Moms Blog.

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