School in any other language

This year’s “buzz” in education funding is “English language learners,” or ELL. This seems like a silly term to me, as I hope we expect all children to be learning English (and math, science, etc.), but the phrase refers to children who speak a foreign language at home.

The City Paper carries an article today about Nashville’s complaints, but rest assured that the same arguments are being made in each of the state’s four largest cities, as well as a few rural areas with growing immigrant populations.

Although the clamor for funding and specialized staffing is new, the problem is not: in this country, we have always had immigrant children in our schools. In Oak Ridge, we have traditionally had a more diverse array of languages than most, but even in the tiny rural school that my husband attended, there were children of migrant farm workers who spoke only Spanish at home.

Children adapt more easily than adults, and are able to learn a new language much more quickly through immersion. Whether Hispanic, Russian, Chinese, or any other nationality, kids can and do pick up English if they’re exposed to it every day through their peers. Although I did not attend school during my adventure as an exchange student, I went from knowing little more than “please” and “thank you” to literally dreaming in Spanish — within a few weeks’ time.

Do we risk doing more harm by segregating these children into special classes comprised of other non-English speaking students, thereby separating them from those from whom they would learn the language most quickly?

Or, is the real goal to leverage more funding from the state for yet another specialized program, serving a few at the expense of the many?

ALL children can learn. They will not learn at the same rate, nor will all attain the same levels of mastery in all subjects. They are, like the rest of us, unique individuals. However, to give immigrant students the best opportunity to succeed in this country, it seems that we should immerse them in our language, culture and customs in our schools.

Tennessee needs to provide adequate funding to educate all students, and stop wasting time and resources trying to divide an inadequate pie.

3 Responses to “School in any other language”

  1. on 22 Jun 2006 at 4:30 pm GoldenAppleCorp

    My eldest son attends Willow Brook, and their tactic is this:
    ESL students spend around an hour a day in special classes. They are pulled out of their regular classroom during a time in which the rest of the class catches up on other work, i.e. they’re not missing anything critical. This is the same way special classes such as speech are dealt with.
    So they’re immersed probably 75% of the time or more.
    Also, Willow Brook (and probably the other elem. schools) have an afterschool program for ESL students.
    I don’t think that this particular solution to the problem is detrimental. Sure, the kids might have more homework than some of the other students, but the ones I’ve been around (in the classroom) seemed to be comfortable and enjoy their time with the other Spanish-speaking kids. I think that having time to spend with other kids who speak the same language and probably have similar backgrounds can only be good for them. Otherwise, they might feel singled out and alone in classrooms full of English speaking white kids.

  2. on 24 Jun 2006 at 7:00 am Netmom

    GAC, programs such as the one at Willow Brook weren’t really the target of my criticism. The article referenced noted the cost of busing students to separate ELL programs, meaning they were segregated for far mroe than an hour per day (and at a significantly higher cost).

    My real concerns are that immigrant children benefit by integration with the rest of us in the melting pot, but also that the larger school systems are using this issue as a ploy to get state funding directed to them at our expense.

  3. on 08 Aug 2007 at 8:31 pm World's History at Culture Club

    World’s History at Culture Club…

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…

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