Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On teaching our children well

Okay, so it's so easy to just try to indoctrinate kids while they're still blank and pliable, and some in various levels of government do seem to feel that keeping them ignorant as long as possible is the best way to protect them (and I'll have a few things to say about that tomorrow). That's why it's so comforting to see schools getting it right and presenting information in a way that interests kids but also leaves room for them to draw their own conclusions.

That's what happened recently at a middle school in Homewood. Teachers illustrated the issue of immigration by staging a return, of sorts, to Ellis Island for sixth graders.

They started out packed tightly onto "ships" and "sailed" past the "Statue of Liberty" before being released and lined up, single-file, for registation. They faced more and less sympathetic officials at "Ellis Island," and, in a rather inspired twist, the school emphasized the difficulties immigrants had coming to a foreign country by bringing in parents to speak foreign language at the kids. Frustration was evident as students struggled through the immigration process opposite Spanish-, Greek-, French-, or Russian-speaking "inspectors."

Obviously, illegal immigration today involves its own special set of issues, and it's easy to forget one of the points emphasized in this exercise: That people make great efforts to come to America because they really, really, really want to be Americans, and that the contribution made by immigrants to the foundation of our country has been significant. As teacher Donna Johnson put it, "We try to teach the children that it changed our way of life in a very positive way. If you stop and think about all the contributions that immigrants have made to our country, we wouldn't be the country we are today."

And while we discuss illegal immigration (always, for some reason, associating it with Hispanic immigration and ignoring undocumented immigration from all other directions) and talk about 700-mile walls and how people need to learn G-D English, we could probably all benefit from having someone shout at us in a foreign tongue - even one we think we speak fairly well - and expect us to understand it. 'Cause I know that I'd have about as much trouble with a rapid-fire "Où sont vos papiers? Êtes-vous en bonne santé? Avez-vous la famille en Amérique?" as your average native Spanish-speaker is likely to have with "WHERE IS YOUR EL CARD-O OF IDENTITY? ARE YOU SICK-O? DO YOU HAVE EL FAMILY-O IN AMERICA?" And if you doubt that, just ask any sixth-grader from Homewood Middle School.

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