Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Times Have Changed

Today I attended a training at the Department of Education in Jefferson City.  The facilitator was an English Learner when she was a child in public school about 30 years ago.  She shared some of her experiences.  The most heartbreaking experiences she mentioned are included below:

  • She and her two sisters received swats for speaking Spanish at school.  When they saw each other at recess, they had to be very careful to speak quietly and watch for the principal so that they would not get caught speaking to each other in their home language.  
  • Despite reaching academic English fluency by 3rd grade, she was placed in a special accent reduction class because her voice was deemed inappropriate.  The class focused on reading fluency, so she still hates reading to this day.  She would have to read the same sentences over and over again until she did so without any hint of her accent.
  • In all of her English classes, she was never told reading was for comprehension.  She thought reading only meant reading aloud fluently.  It wasn't until college when someone told her that reading is actually for comprehension that she realized she had never comprehended anything in her entire reading life.
  • She became a citizen while serving in our military.  When she received her naturalization documents, she discovered her first name was misspelled, her middle name was omitted, and her second last name was omitted.  Because name is so much of our identity, she essentially became a new person.  She felt it was the government's right to change her name and tell her who she was as an American, and that she could not be the old her and be an American.  She still uses the wrong name to this day, twenty some years later.  Today, she has a strong emotional reaction when Starbucks misspells her name.
  • She was made to feel so ashamed about her native language that when she became a mother, she vowed that her children would never speak Spanish.  Twenty-one years later she realizes she did her children an injustice by hiding their culture from them and keeping them from communicating with so many people.  She realizes now bilingualism is a gift and an asset.

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