Cabe column: Why is dual-language learning a threat to some?
Last week, the Post Independent published an article about the new Riverview School’s dual-language learning plan. And once again, something that should be a no-brainer turned into a community-wide debate. It manifested in the comment section, and it manifested in grocery store chatter. And most naysayers I heard were not very polite about it.
It baffles me that parents would let their own fear and xenophobia trump this opportunity to offer a valuable and privileged learning experience to their children. For some reason, the idea of being fluent in two languages in the United States isn’t universally accepted as a positive.
I wish I could say I don’t understand why this is, but I’m sad to report that I do.
I understand all too well why the idea of local white children learning in two languages is cause for alarm and vitriol. These neighbors of ours can try all they want to say they feel this way because they believe English should remain the official language of the United States (side note: The U.S. has no official language). They can say they’re worried their children will become confused if they grow up learning two languages (research shows this is not the case, and in fact learning multiple languages helps children excel in many areas). They can scream from the rooftops that their opinions aren’t based in racism or fear of their waning power in America, but I’m not buying any of it.
The reason some folks don’t want a school teaching in English and Spanish is because they’re afraid it’s a threat to their culture. They’re afraid this trend might catch on, and someday they’ll be at a grave disadvantage if English is the only language they know. They’re afraid they might have to start putting work into communicating in their own country rather than having the luxury of growing up in the majority.
To be honest, I can understand those fears. Nobody wants to see their advantages being stripped away. I am not fluent in Spanish — I can get as far as asking where the bathroom is and making my order to go, but that’s about it. Part of the reason I want to visit London over many other European cities is because I know without a doubt I’ll be able to speak the language. If I really think about an America where I can’t communicate with the vast majority of people with whom I come in contact, it’s a scary thought.
Communication is important for so many reasons. It gives us the ability to move throughout our world. We can read traffic signs, ask questions, take direction from our bosses, as well as develop meaningful relationships that make life worth living. If any of those things are taken away, it’s going to make life immeasurably more difficult.
That said, I wonder if all these fearful English-speaking Americans ever consider how Spanish-speaking Americans feel every day. As luxurious as it is to be in the majority, it’s equally difficult being in the minority. Most learn English over time, but what about when they’re in the process of learning? How often do you think about how it must feel for them?
The bottom line is this: Riverview School is not teaching exclusively in Spanish. It’s not like the English-speaking children there are going to be learning solely this foreign language, and the Spanish-speaking children are going to be at some big advantage (God forbid, right?). All it means is that the two majority languages in the Roaring Fork Valley and the United States of America are going to be taught to all the children of the school. These kids will be able to communicate with one another in one of two languages, and they’re going to go on into this quickly changing world better equipped than their parents’ generation or my own.
Language opens up so many doors. If I had children, I’d be first in line for a program that will give them a leg up in life, no matter my own fears and insecurities.
Jessica Cabe is a former Post Independent arts and entertainment editor.
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