Check out this article in our local paper about a French boy maintaining and strengthening his native language through the study of local history and ecology. It’s a story of amazing educational opportunity: authentic language use through the study of the history of the Botanical Gardens and the plants found on the grounds. Lambert (the nine year old boy) is portrayed as doing brilliant things with his teacher, and I can’t help wondering why all the Spanish-speaking children in Clarke County are not thought of in this way all the time.
Does this child get a full color photograph and lengthy article written about him because he is “French” and moved here with apparently privileged parents rather than a Spanish-speaking Mexican who might have moved here with a family looking for better work and a better life (In other words, is it inherently more “attractive” to speak French as your native language rather than Spanish)? Or is it a result of the innovative and (in today’s world) unheard of pedagogy of his responsive teacher? Perhaps both…and both reasons make me incurably sad, frustrated, and downright angry.
I hope my letter gets published in the paper, but I’ll put it here as well:
More than Language Lessons (written by Stephanie Jones, Athens)
This young English Language Learner was immersed in an ideal educational context: the study of local history and the natural world (outdoors – not in books); authentic talking, reading, and writing to strengthen his French and English; an educator who saw his bilingualism as a strength; and evaluations of his progress that were authentic (conversational, written products, authentic vocabulary growth, etc.) rather than spelling and grammar tests.
Many children in Clarke County schools negotiate bilingualism daily, doing all the wonderful things that Lambert was reportedly doing: speaking one language at home, English at school, and imaginatively combining them when necessary. But too many children in school are restricted inside four walls with a mandated curriculum and limited outdoor time (15 minutes per day as young as first grade), and evaluated by standardized tests that could never assess the richness of their knowledge and language usage.
What would happen if we got our school children outdoors studying local history, local ecology, and language in real contexts? Would they be perceived as brilliantly as Lambert in this article? Could we finally move beyond seeing children as numbers on state tests?
Is it fair that a child like Lambert (who is likely from a privileged family) is the only one to experience such a rich education?
Let’s move students out of their school seats and into the real world where learning is deep, rich, authentic, and long-term – then we can highlight all students’ and teachers’ brilliance in full color in the newspaper.