When we moved here, I was very excited to learn Spanish. After all, Korean is so completely different from English, and we learned to get by. Spanish would be a snap, right? Well, okay, so we can order our migas and cerveza, but that’s about it. Surely Violet will translate for us when she becomes fluent by going to one of the myriad bilingual immersion programs in Austin.
What? There are NO dual language immersion schools in Austin? What the…? Clearly there must be some mistake.
No. Austin, the oasis of blue weird in a sea of conservative red, does not have this kind of program. Apparently the schoolboard mindset here leans back 60 years to a time when people thought trying to cram two languages into one brain was a hinderance to education rather than a boon. So now the policy is subtractive bilingualism; trying to “cure” students of their first language so they can succeed academically. And yet, so many studies have shown, and anyone bilingual knows, that functioning in two languages actually improves cognition.
And isn’t it insane that American society doesn’t encourage multilingualism? Especially in this increasingly global world? Doesn’t language open up doors and cultures and career paths? Don’t we want our kids to have that opportunity? This doesn’t seem like an issue we should have to fight for. But that’s what I find myself doing.
Recently I went to a Foreign Language Education conference. I got into a conversation with a professor there, who worked at a dual immersion school in California. She was also amazed at the absence of such a program here, especially because she’d like to enroll her bilingual son in one. I said I knew a load of parents (from www.AustinMamas.com and others) who are really interested in something like this. So she started a listserv to mobilize and gather like-minded Austinites. (Please sign up if you’re interested!)
So far we’ve got one good lead. A number of schools in central Austin are about to close. There are many reasons for that possible decision, but a lot of locals want to keep them open. One way we could save them is to install a dual language immersion class. If enough parents are interested in transfering their kids to such a school, we could kill two birds with one stone.
I’ve got a few years until Violet goes to school. Hopefully we’ll get something accomplished before then. Until then, maybe I should sign up for a Spanish class…