With the rise of dual language education in the U.S., have bilingual children become a commodity? In other words, are children who walk into the dual language classroom already speaking two languages possessing a highly valued commodity: bilingualism? The question, though, still remains, whose bilingualism is valued? Is it the “middle class” students bilingualism or is it those students who come from “lower class” homes?
To distinguish between “middle” and “lower” I’d like to clarify how I am referring to the two kinds of bilinguals. There are those whose parents have a formal education and belong to a certain (higher) economic bracket and those whose parents have a limited formal education and come from lower economic brackets, generally speaking. Both bilinguals are what we, in academia, call heritage-speakers of a minority language (like Spanish).
This past week my little girl completed her first year at Escuelita del Alma. At the end of each year the escuelita (little school) puts on a recital where each classroom dances to a Spanish song. The theme was “Los Insectos….and Other Little Critters.” One of the many reasons why I love and chose this escuelita for my daughter is because they value linguistic diversity. As you can see in the very title of the production there is a code-switch: Spanish and English are used in a single phrase. I love that because it reflects a common linguistic feature (code-switching) of the bilingual community we live in here in central Texas.
In an earlier post I wrote about my experience while visiting another Spanish immersion school before deciding where my daughter would attend. It was at that other school where I was informed “We don’t use Tex-Mex here.” What they failed to realize is the importance in being able to communicate with members of our local community, in addition to being able to perform linguistically in academic settings, like the classroom. For this reason I decided to enroll my daughter elsewhere, but also because they insulted a key feature of my linguistic repertoire!
My parents were or would be categorized as lower class Mexican immigrants and I was/am a heritage-speaker of Spanish, though when I was in elementary school in the 80’s dual language education was not an option. Now, I am a middle-class and highly educated parent of a daughter I am raising with multiple languages.
I presume her multilingualism will be a highly valued commodity as local schools try to fill dual language classrooms with “native” Spanish-speakers. What I will continue to strive for, as a parent and academic, is placing greater value in the varying ways people use Spanish and English like we do in central Texas!