Friday, 15 February 2013 00:00
The stated goal of the North Shore School District is to foster bilingualism by providing an expansion of language instruction starting from kindergarten. Research shows that there are advantages in having a bilingual mind; however, the research does not show that there are better languages to be bilingual in (except there are statistics that show that Italian speakers have a lower occurrence of dyslexia). Part of their plan is to give kindergarteners instruction in Mandarin Chinese and then Spanish starting in the third grade.
At the height of the Cold War, progressives in education told us that we should study Russian and Soviet Studies in order to “get ahead.” In the mid-‘70s and into the ‘80s the language that would insure a “brighter future” was Japanese. What happened? Time proved these predictions wrong just as it will prove the current “language du jour” will not achieve the stated goal of bilingualism and/or give these students a “leg-up” in their secondary education and in life.
Aside from number of speakers in the world and a booming economy, Mandarin Chinese does not offer any real advantages. China is a brutal dictatorship that, while somewhat stable now, can change radically. There are no major advances in scientific research from China. Medicine in China is folkloric, and if there were many great works of Chinese literature they would have been translated into English. Aside from that, it is a language that is difficult for Westerners to learn and there are little connections to our community. Many of our neighboring school districts have offered and then canceled their Chinese programs.
In December, at North Shore, they held the world language national honor induction ceremony. Of the languages that are currently offered at North Shore, Spanish had 2.3 percent of those enrolled, inducted, French 3.4 percent, Latin 4.9 percent, and Italian had 4.5 percent. This literally speaks volumes! It is not that the students who study Italian are smarter or that the Italian teachers are better; it is a reflection of the student’s motivation to learn Italian. This is something that the administration is overlooking in favor of being “in vogue”; but sadly in contrast to their intended goal of bilingualism!