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Bilingual Education

Bilingual Education for Homeschoolers

Dateline: 4/18/06

By Susan Crawford

Let’s Try Homeschooling Instead!

In Richard Rodriguez’s essay, “Aria, A Memoir if a Bilingual Childhood,” he makes a compelling argument for conformity as a value system as taught by the educational system in this country. He writes about the love and comfort he experienced at home with his parents and siblings, all speaking the parents native language, Spanish. He seems to think he is writing as essay discussing bilingual education. Instead the essay tells the story of the school system’s strong need for its students to conform even at the cost of the child’s relationship with his parents.

Learning is quite a natural state for children. There is no proof that the structured classroom setting is superior to the close attention that comes from a homeschooled environment. Until Mr. Rodriguez learned to comfortably speak English in class he felt left out, describing himself as “socially disadvantaged.”

What really made him disadvantaged, in my opinion, was being torn from the inner workings or his parents lives that their common language provided. The family had been greatly encouraged to speak English at home by teachers at the children’s school and his parents’ willingness to do anything for their children made them stop speaking Spanish to them. His parent’s English, especially his father’s, was halting and he embarrassed Richard. His parents’ inability to understand him in his new language frustrated him, because it broke a very important bond that had existed between them. He even stopped calling them mama and papa.

When the Rodreguez family had spoken Spanish amongst themselves and with other relatives, they experienced a family cohesiveness, and Richard saw the language as a secret code for belonging. It is nature’s design for the young to be nurtured and protected until they are able to go off on their own. For humans this can be until the teen years. The most important people in children’s lives are their parents, more so then even their siblings or friends. It is through our relationship with our parents that provides us with our value system and our cultural standards. The home is where we build our identity. It is the place where our outside accomplishments are less important. “We are all insiders,” as Mr. Rodriguez says. “It is where we belong.”

However Mr. Rodriguez puts a startling emphasis on public belonging at the expense of his private identity and his family life. As soon as he first speaks in English in school, when he has successfully conformed to the outside worlds standards he feels like an adult. In reality he is only between 8-10, an age one still needs ones parents.

His parents had stopped speaking to him in Spanish for years. What had he lost from not knowing them? What further respect was lost to see them struggle to express themselves in English, a language he now adopted as his public identity in which they did not share? What deep feelings could they convey to each other in this new language? The parents were unable to communicate sufficiently in English to offer him understanding or guidance.

For many people like Richard the answer to getting and education and maintaining these important ties to our families and our cultures would have been homeschooling. He is not taught conformity. He is free to make and participate in his curriculum from a young age. Many homeschoolers participate more in the real world than in the artificial environment that is our classrooms. One mother of a homeschooler told me that when their friend ran for mayor, they helped in his campaign as a civics lesson. The child spent time at the election headquarters and learned about voting and registration. He also took walks with the candidate around the district and learned about campaigning from a close vantage point. (Zeise) These were lessons not possible from a state approved text book, in a sterile class room.

Homeschooling would help to sustain and strengthen the bonds and respect a child feels for his parents and for the immigrant’s child it would help to maintain his ties to his culture. Homeschoolers need not be told by the government “no child is left behind” because a lesson isn’t completed until it’s learned. Few homeschoolers would reach teen years unable to read and write or do simple math equations as happens in our public schools.

For children of color it is an extra bonus seeing as how 90% of our school teachers are white. These children also “must attend schools in the 120 of the worst school districts in the US.” (Kraychir).

Mr. Rodriguez is so happy to belong to his public identity that he fails to grasp we belong to ourselves. What about an inner life?” What about what really matters in a good life?” (Gatto) While it may be uncomfortable not knowing the language speaking fluent English is not a panacea for suicide, divorce, or failure.

As Mr. Gatto notes in his essay What Really Matters: “Does going to school matter if it takes away time to love your family? What matters in a good life?”

Mr. Rodriguez would have us believe that sacrificing a relationship with his parents to fit in made him a better person, but to me his words told a different story.


You may contact Susan Crawford at [email protected].

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