Wednesday, January 02, 2008

There's Something You Don't See Every Day...

In Kalona, Iowa, a largely Mennonite area, there's a new program where young children are learning Arabic. And to judge from the article, they've got an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher. Not only that, but the town's using a federal grant of $200,000 to help support the first three years of the program (which hopefully won't be the last).

Stories like these amaze me because we seem to have learned very little about teaching language in the US. The best language learners are young children, and standard practice in most schools is to withhold serious instruction until high school, or close to it. In Nassau County, where I live, there are only two districts that offer dual language programs in Spanish beginning with kindergarten. The idea is to get two classes together, one dominant in each language, and instruct both classes in both languages. I know of only one school in NYC that's tried it (and they like it).

Of course, if you don't have enough kids who speak the target language, you'll have to take another approach, as they do in Iowa. But in a city like NY, you've got speakers of many languages, and in that, the resources for great programs. It's too bad Tweed is fixated on test scores and squeezing as many kids as possible into classrooms. We've got potential here for some really worthwhile programs.

Too bad the kids are all filling in bubbles to try to improve the Mayor's stats.
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