In border states — both north and south, large cacophonous cities and many other places, the ability to read and converse in more than one language is both a social and survival skill.
The Highline School District south of Seattle has for years encompassed a rich mix of racial, ethnic and cultural diversity. Now, the district is setting a goal of graduating all its students as bilingual by 2026, just eight school years away.
Partly, it is hoping to start training a much-needed corps of bilingual teachers in a state where more than 130,000 students start out mainly speaking a language other than English. No longer will the schools in Highline be trying to “cure” students of that second language.
For students without the second language, bilingual instruction, if it is to be effective, can’t wait until high school or junior high but needs to begin with preschool, and be taught consistently and well in every grade after that. The young mind is amazingly plastic and moldable, much more so than that of older students or adults. And the lessons stick.
At a certain point in learning another language, it’s necessary to learn something about the culture from which the language emanates, whether that’s the French of the Quebecois in Canada, the Spanish of Central and South America or the various Chinese dialects of the People’s Republic. That cross-cultural education helps us learn more than just words. We learn something of the way of thinking about those we see as different from ourselves.
This contentious world needs a lot more of that.
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