Making School Kids Speak English Could Be Only Way to Fight Bullying

englishPeople never seem to get tired of the "speak English in America" debate, do they? It's 2012, we want to ready our kids to take on the global economy, and we've still got a lot of backward thinking about bilingualism. Get ready for another monkey wrench for this whole debate.

A tricky story coming out of a small Catholic high school in Wisconsin is shining a light on a problem even progressive parents don't have a fix for. What happens when a kid is speaking a language her teachers don't understand? Is it the teacher's bad for being uneducated, or should the kid be complying to some sort of national standard because school staff has a responsibility to protect kids from bullying?

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As it stands, the story is pretty crazy. A member of the Menominee nation, Miranda Washinawatok says she was reprimanded -- even forced to sit out a basketball game -- for teaching her classmates to say some pretty benign words in her tribe's language: I love you; hello; thank you. Silly, right? My kid's kindergarten teacher taught her those exact words in French, and no one raised an eyebrow.

I'm not surprised that her mother raised Cain and got an apology from the administrators at Sacred Heart. But I was surprised by how I reacted to some of the language in the teacher's pseudo apology:

In an academic setting, a student must be respectful of all of the other students — language and behaviour that creates a possibility of elitism, or simply excludes other students, can create or increase racial and cultural tensions

I don't exactly buy the racial tensions argument here. But, and this is a big but folks, I actually kind of get the "respectful of other students" thing. If the teacher doesn't know the content of a student's speech, how is she supposed to maintain order in a classroom? How is she to know if a child is badmouthing her peers?

It happens more than you think. My husband studied French in high school and college, but it didn't help him in the least bit when he was reffing high school soccer ... and kids on one team were speaking Spanish to one another on the field. He didn't understand a word they were saying, which bothered him only because part of his job was to police the trash talk on the field (for those not familiar with the rules of the game -- soccer players actually get "cards" for offenses like that). How could he protect kids on the other team if he didn't know what these high schoolers were saying?

He wasn't trying to wade into some debate about immigration or bilingualism. He was trying to make sure kids felt safe and respected on a high school soccer field.

I am wary of some crazy law being passed that says kids can only speak English inside our schools. But there has to be some middle ground here, some way to keep our kids safe, and allow for diversity.

What do you think: would English-only in classrooms be harmful for our kids or a way to protect them?

 

Image via antwerpenR/Flickr

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