Saturday, December 10, 2005

Spanish at school translates to suspension

During my summer and winter breaks, I work at Minjok Sagwan or Minjok Korean Leadership Academy, teaching at a camp for middle school students. One key to the camp is EOP or English Only Policy: students are required to speak only English; in class, in the cafeteria, the dormitory; everywhere on campus. Of the three hundred plus students, more than two hundred are caught violating the policy frequently enough to receive punishment - typically duckwalking and pushups and such.

You might think that the students are caught having long conversations in Korean. No... Well, sometimes. Many are caught making exclamations; they step outside and say (please forgive my terrible Korean), "Ah, Chupta." (It's cold), "Geopchagia" (I'm surprised) or "baebula" (I'm hungry).

I am mentioning this because I found an MSNBC an article about a Hispanic American violating an (unwritten) English only policy at his school.

16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally".

He was suspended from school for speaking Spanish. Not in the classroom, but in the hall, on restroom break. What did he say? "No problemo". Heck, I might have said that a few times.

Comparing English in Korea and English in the States is a little like apples and oranges but the rationale on both sides sound familiar from camp:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) made that point [it is particularly important for students from immigrant families to use the nation's dominant language] this summer when he vetoed a bill authorizing various academic subjects to be tested in Spanish in the state's public schools. "As an immigrant," the Austrian-born governor said, "I know the importance of mastering English as quickly and as comprehensively as possible." ... Since then, the issue of speaking Spanish in the hall has not been raised at the school, Zach said. "I know it would be, like, disruptive if I answered in Spanish in the classroom. I totally don't do that. But outside of class now, the teachers are like, 'Whatever.' "

I particularly like, Zach's final statement; "...the teachers are like, 'whatever' ". That's Greek to me! I have no idea how the teachers feel from his remark.

We will be in trouble at camp if the parents take this approach:
Said Rubio: "I'm mainly doing this for other Mexican families, where the legal status is kind of shaky and they are afraid to speak up. Punished for speaking Spanish? Somebody has to stand up and say: This is wrong."

Another comment on the "like," "whatever" and "totally" element of Zach's (and most Canadian and American students) vocabulary. Did you ever use 'Go' as a synonym for 'Say'? I think it drove my parents to distraction when I would tell a story like this:
"And then I go, "You can't do that!". And Kevin goes, "Yes, I can. I did." And I go, "...

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