Saturday, December 10, 2005

History repeats, again

This report of a native Spanish speaking high school student being kicked out of school for speaking Spanish to another boy in the hallways brings back some bad memories. Not personal memories, but memories of things past that should not have happened.

In the hallway one day at Endeavor Alternative School, Kansas City, KA, Zach Rubio had this conversation with an acquaintance. "¿Me prestas un dolar," the other boy asked. To which Zach replied, "No problema." That was it. A teacher who overheard the conversation reported Zach for discipline and he was suspended for violating an unwritten rule against speaking any language other than Spanish.

His father had to call the area superintendent who, to his credit, immediately lifted the suspension. I might note that Zach speaks excellent English, slang and all, totally really. Zach says that he knows he cannot converse in Spanish in the classroom because that would be "disruptive". In the hallway between classes, however, he didn't see a problem and neither did almost anyone else, except the school's principal.

This reminds me, unfortunately, of the government and parochial schools that sprang up throughout the American Indian reservations all over the United States and Canada. In most if not all of those schools there was an overt effort to destroy the native cultures of the children and their families. Indian kids were forced to assume "Christian" names, forbidden to speak their native languages, forbidden any historic ceremonial remembrances, not taught any native history and forbidden to attempt to study it on their own, forbidden to practice their native religions and forbidden to wear any of their native clothing, including religious jewelry. Their punishment for violating these edicts was almost always corporal in nature.

Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Native American and Native Canadian children were victims of these cruel and racist policies. To make it even worse, they were rounded up in the fall and sent packing away to schools that were sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes. If you spend some time surfing the net for information about these practices, you will become horrified. At least the native Spanish speaking kids aren't hired out for cheap labor to local white families as they sometimes were back in the old days. But it was even worse for the "Puerto Rican Indians".

If educators know all this, assuming that they know all this, one would think that some special care would be taken to avoid repeating the abuses of the past.

Having said all this, let's make no mistake that the education, improvement and assimilation of the children is, and was, the goal. I'm just saying that cruelty and abuse is not the way to get the job done. And that professional educators ought to already know this.

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