I wrote last week about Dallas writer Pamela Kripke’s rather less than convincing case that children raised in single-parent homes have it better than kids with two parents in the home. In researching Kripke’s work, though, I came across this interesting piece she wrote for HuffPo about a lesson she learned teaching in a public school where almost all of her students are poor and Hispanic. Excerpt:
I don’t permit Spanish in my classroom. Not because it isn’t a lovely language. Or because I don’t appreciate the merits of bilingualism. Ninety-nine percent of my students are Hispanic, and they have no idea how to speak or write English.
“I speak Spanglish,” says one. “I don’t got to know English.”
The truth is, they haven’t really had to know it. Most of my students live in homogeneous, insular communities in which Norwegian is heard and seen about as frequently as English. Only three or four of them have parents who understand the language of the country they live in — a little — even though they have lived in it for years. They don’t have to be confused by the American supermarket on the corner; they go to La Fiesta. They don’t have to miss out on school district news; they read the friendlier version of the website… “Now, in Spanish!” Woohoo. From the ROTC practice field, chants of “Uno, Dos, Trés, Cuatro,” fill the air. Again and again. Really, would it be that difficult to count to “Four”? Doesn’t it bother anyone that 13-year-olds have second grade vocabularies? Is it really wise to send our future workforce into the world without the ability to converse?
All I know is, when my grandparents immigrated to Boston years ago, the signs at City Hall were not written in Russian, or Polish. If they wanted to communicate with their kids’ teachers, they figured out how. My grandmother became a newspaper columnist.
Certain that one group of students had arrived here from Mexico maybe a year ago, at most, I asked them how the transition has been. After I defined transition, they told me that they had attended public school in Dallas (Dallas, Texas, in the United States of America) since first grade. One of these kids couldn’t recognize the word our. Never heard of it.
I presumed, then, that surely, these students were masters at their native tongue. Clearly, they must have enormous facility with their own language. I asked their Spanish teacher.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “They speak it as poorly as they speak English. It’s entirely broken.”
Kripke, who appears from her other writing to be a true-blue liberal (she has written elsewhere that the day her youngest child becomes of majority age, permitting her under her divorce decree to move out of Dallas County, she’s going back to NYC), reaches a radical conclusion. She says that these children of immigrants are growing up linguistically and culturally illiterate, and living inside a Spanish-language pop culture bubble. The situation for these kids is so dire, she says, that standard-issue, one-size-fits-all school reform measures won’t work. More:
When kids can’t rely on parents to teach them English, or communities to require that they need it, school is the only place left. School has missed the boat.
What do you think? My guess is that in generations past, immigrant families may not have had the personal wherewithal to give their children the tools they needed to succeed in an alien culture, but they at least had the understanding that gaining that knowledge was vital, and so they pushed their kids to learn it. And they had the benefit of a mainstream culture that insisted that these kids learn these things.