At first blush, I would have said separating non-English speaking kids from their English speaking peers at school is a segregationist tactic that hinders the chances of immigrant children from success.
But a New York Times story that follows kids at the Cecil D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., begs the question – if kids can succeed separately, wouldn’t throwing them in with English-speaking kids be the real hinderance to academic success?
The story follows a group of kids in the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program at Cecil D., kids from a host of Latin and South American countries plus China, Sri Lanka and more. These kids aren’t just learning English while their peers study Spanish; they’re in an ESOL classroom for social studies, math and almost every other subject. And as their teacher – an immigrant herself who was the first in her French-Canadian family to learn English when they moved to the U.S. – points out, there’s a vast difference between the words they pick up from their English-speaking classmates in the cafeteria and those used in a classroom. No one is talking about “imperialism” at the lunch table.
In a story recently about a mid-western private school that’s banned kids from speaking anything but English within its walls, I focused on the efforts to make American kids more competitive in the global economy by encouraging bilingualism. Being exposed to immigrant classmates is GOOD for American kids.
I would say, overall, the opposite is true too. I learned best in the assimiliation language courses in college; when the professor refused to speak anything but French for the course of the day. Was I confused at first? Oh yeah. I wasn’t out in left field, I was in the parking lot. But slowly, you can’t help but learn. Beyond language, there’s also exposure to American customs, and cultural assimiliation, to some degree, is necessary to survive. Kids should retain a cultural identity, but they need to at least understand which new customs they are adopting – or avoiding.
It’s a debate I don’t know that any educator can truly answer. The kids at Cecil D. are performing well on tests, they say they’re happy (watch the video), and the school does introduce them into “mixed” classes as their English language skills develop. Perhaps that’s the real answer – starting with segregation that has a logical endpoint, segregation that results in assimilation.
What do you think? Would you fight this if it happened at your kids’ school?
Image: New York Times