Thursday, July 15, 2010

Soap Box Fantasy

There is a scene in Anna Karenina where Anna is reading a romance novel and holding a paper knife up to her throat, foreshadowing her eventual affair and suicide. I remember my literature professor commenting on how one's daydreams and fantasies can reveal quite a bit about a person--although those of us living outside of novels are in control of how much of that information becomes public knowledge.

What better way to keep my privacy than to post it online? As the topic of today's post, I have chosen one particular fantasy--the home-town show-down. But to justify what has driven me to my fantasy, I'll need to give some background.

My memories of my home-town are fairly cliche: I recall small-town pride and camaraderie, but also narrow-mindedness, provincialism, and clannishness. As a disclaimer, I should mention that I moved away from my hometown at the age of 18, leaving me with an impression heavily influenced by the pettiness that any high school experience might bring. However, I do specifically recall instances of well-respected adults committing the worst kind of racism--the delusional kind. As a humor writer for my college newspaper explained it, you know you're going to hear something racist when someone begins with "I'm not racist, but. . . "

An example? A friend's father bemoaning the lack of blondes on the homecoming court. The court that year was heavily Latina, and the father's disgruntled explanation was "It's because all those Mexicans vote for their Mexican friends," as if he had made some profound breakthrough on the nature of high school race relations in America. Of course, our school was 65% Latino, meaning that his proposed preference--a blonde court--would have required not only all the white kids to vote for their white friends, but a hearty support from students of other races, too.

In the context of thinly-veiled racism, shortly after I graduated from high school, proposition 227 was passed. This proposition eliminated bilingual education and mandated that all English Language Learners be immersed in regular courses after one year of sheltered ESL instruction. It goes against everything I now know in terms of language acquisition and sound educational theory, but it passed. In defense of well-meaning Californians, I do believe that the pro-bilingual faction did a lousy job explaining why this was such a bad idea. For those less language-policy nerdy than I, allow me to summarize why this was such a rotten idea:
  1. Kids are in school not only to learn English, but to learn content-area knowledge, academic vocabulary and expression, and critical-thinking skills. So when you're thinking the fastest way for kids to learn English is to immerse them--more time on task, right?--you're forgetting that while they're learning the colors and numbers, their peers are learning how to support a thesis statement, the intricacies of protein synthesis, and the underlying causes of World War II. Those kids immersed in English? Missing it all while they figure out the basics.
  2. Language Acquisition takes time. That ESL kid who speaks with hardly any accent and you think should be in regular classes? Give him a Biology text to read or ask him to write a persuasive essay. The language required is significantly more complex than chatting about the weekend, and it takes years longer to learn.
  3. Virtually every drop of valid, reliable research on bilingual versus immersion education that measures results over a substantial length of time (as opposed to studies covering only a year or two) show that bilingual education is measurably, objectively superior to immersion. Boo-ya!
So after all this rambling background, you're probably wondering what the fantasy is. The fantasy is that I'm in a school board meeting in my hometown. The discussion turns to bilingual education. I sense my chance at vindication: proclaiming the evils of undisclosed racism and informing the ignorant masses as to the merits of bilingual education--simply more effective, regardless of your political persuasion. The moment is ripe, the timing is perfect. I take the microphone and school the board and the community with my vast knowledge of all things ESL. A cynical board member attempts to derail me, but my infinite wisdom of language acquisition, my crackling wit and debate skill, and my dutiful preparation allow me to humiliate him with style.

So that's my fantasy. It doesn't say much for my superiority to my home-town counterparts, does it? I'm still thinking about how to one-up them, while I'm sure I've all but disappeared from collective memory.

1 comment:

Mademoiselle H said...

Dork. (Which is why I love you)