Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bilingual Pathos & Mono Myth

by RudyG

Wednesday started out with a super-high and ended with one of those lows that reminds you you're still in the United States of monolingualism.

I spent a few years prior to becoming an ELA-S teacher as what Colo. calls a Paraprofessional, an underpaid teacher's assistant. One thing that made it tolerable was the responsibilities I was given by my boss (both entendres) teacher to go creative and try to teach Spanish-speaking first graders how to write. That had its own ups and downs, one up being the year Alexandra won 3rd place in the Northwest Denver regional writing competition, in Spanish.

This morning I learned that in this year's competition--yes, after I left--two of my (sic) ex-students took 1st and 2nd place in the 2nd-grade category, and two others took 1st and 3rd place in the 3rd-grade category. I was high! Apparently, they really got inspired and more talented after I moved on. Maybe after I leave my present school, the same will happen.

I don't know the extent of my influence on the four students who won. Obviously, I can't take major credit since they blossomed only after my exit; but I'll take minor credit. It's something to grasp onto in a pedagogical world where you're continually under the shadow of standardized tests being the only true measure of success worth considering.

The direction Denver schools follow under the current Superintendent is to "exit" mexicanitos ASAP, the thinking being that the reason they might fail one day will be because their English isn't good enough and doesn't come fast enough.

Downtown administration, as well as state legislators, can't hold their breath long enough for English instruction to take dominance. Literacy in Spanish?--only as long as necessary and because the fed courts made us (Denver schools).

The admitted linguistic reality is that Spanish literacy greatly helps Spanish speakers learn English better, in the long run. (Monolingualists just can't wait long.) Not half-assed lip service to Spanish literacy--real instruction that increases their fluency and literacy.

In an unscientific attempt to ignore that reality, Denver mexicanitos are currently subjected to two different series of English tests to grasp at the barest opportunity to liquidate a child's Spanish instruction, long before they reached much more than a level of elementary-grade literacy. If the same standard was used with Anglo children learning English, they'd get their diplomas right after they turned 12.

The Denver superintendent's myopic hopes also ignore Denver history. There's been more than a hundred years of tens of thousands of brown kids who did speak and learn in practically nothing but English. They were, and are, called Chicanos, Chicanos whose parents spoke little Spanish in the home. Disproportionate numbers of those kids dropped out, or even if they graduated, they did so with scores and abilities inferior to Anglo kids. The Denver superintendent can't blame the educational system's past and present failures with these Chicano kids on their not learning English.

Anyway, in the short span Denver schools allowed my four ex-students, they at least enjoyed some fruits of learning in their first language, apparently well enough that their writings merited the highest awards presented in this area.

I've decided to break this post in two installments to spare you my usual lengthy piece, so you won't find out about my super-low until next time.

But at least Wed. started out with a bit of confirmation that I might have helped four mexicanitos onto the road of literary authorship at the ages of 6, 7, and 8. They didn't have to wait until they mastered English to discover that about themselves. I almost wish I could have ended the day there, instead of experiencing what came next.

Rudy Ch. Garcia


andrea said...

Rudy, good for you. I'm an ex-ESL teacher and a writer myself, and the work you did encouraging LITERACY, not just conversational language skills, is wonderful. Early-exit is really a shame for these kids, who may never learn high-quality reading comp and critical thinking skills very well.

Anonymous said...

Thx, hope you like the 2nd installment as much; it's more about the "Early-exit is really a shame" stuff.
We're open to contributions from writers, one of my favorites being bilingual children's literature/literacy, so keep us in mind.

Julio Sueco said...

Ah, yes, I can still feel the pangs for uttering spanish vowels, for 'mispronouncing' my i's or my a's, or getting scolded for writing long sentences with no punctuation, how they betrayed my alienness in a monolingual world.