Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dancing to a Different Tune

by Alyssa Shroyer |

Editor: Jessica Nicholas (PhD candidate in French)

Alyssa Shroyer is a Senior in Early Childhood Education. In the ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ (418) EUC survey class, she focused on bilingual education in the Autonomous Territories of Spain that possess political power to enact their own measures on local languages and cultures. In this blog entry, she asks whether local pride should take precedence over global utility when opting for types of bilingual education.

I recently read an article by Julie Kaminski regarding two schools in northern Barcelona, the Oriol Martorell School and Colonia Guell that have undergone change in the past decade, incorporating the teaching of Catalan as the primary language of their curriculum.  Spanish is minimally taught for all ages.  English is taught as a second foreign language in early elementary school, only 3 hours per week.  Italian is also a part of the curriculum as “it goes well with music.”  Oriol Martorell has a teaching philosophy that emphasizes the importance of multilingualism and the arts. 

Both schools are said to be quite low in the number of students they accept.  In reading about these two schools, there seemed to be value of fair and equal education placed high on the priorities of these schools.  I am interested in readers sharing their thoughts on whether or not they believe this is actually the case in Spain.  Unfortunately, the trend tends to be opposite in most areas of the United States, where monetary ability tends to weigh out equal opportunity  The emphasis on linguistic equality, regardless of prestige, amazed me in reading Kaminski’s observations of these two schools.  She states, “The Generalitat, Catalonia's autonomous government, has produced a series of manuals to help teachers get to grips with the most commonly spoken immigrant languages, e.g. Chinese, Arabic and Berber” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/nov/05/schools.uk2). 

As a future teacher, I admire Spain’s policy to teach children in their native language for the first two years.  The article went so far to state that in Spain’s educational policies, students who attend a school that does not teach in their mother tongue should, in theory, be provided a tutor for their first two years to help them keep up academically.  The head of both schools claim that thier students rarely fall behind academically, even when immersed (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/nov/05/schools.uk2).  Students in the United States, similarly, tend to be thrown into an immersive environment for language learning in many schools, but here, the reality is many fall behind academically. From courses I’ve taken as part of my major in Education, I have learned that the immersion method proves to be problematic in many cases because of the focus on language learning instead of content, and so I would like to know some of the people of Spain’s opinions regarding their children being immersed in a language like Catalan.

Kaminski of The Guardian describes Spain’s policy on multilingualism.  “In Spain generally, they tend to be much more aware than we are in the UK of the importance of foreign languages. In Catalonia, the academic year 2002/03 has been declared ‘year of languages’” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/nov/05/schools.uk2). In a more recent article by Professor Cabrera of Catalonia at the Autonomous University of Madrid, he suggests no teaching of Spanish in Catalonia, which is quite opposite of what these two schools have done near Barcelona (http://catacciouk.blogspot.com/2010/04/should-not-be-taught-at-all-in-schools.html). He expresses fears about the superiority of Spanish over languages like Catalan, Basque, and Galician, and states that “[He fails] to see [pride] in the so-called Catalan nationalism, nor in the Basque or Galician.”  His main argument is that Catalonian pride must increase in order to keep this language as one of importance to the people, and therefore, Spanish should not be taught in the schools. 

In my unfamiliarity with the area and policies, I wonder why two schools in Spain have found it important to teach primarily in Catalan, while Professor Cabrera firmly believes that Spanish should be done away with in schools of Catalonia to promote more use of Catalan.  What do the people of Catalonia think about this?  In what language do you believe your children should be educated?  Likewise, those who live in Barcelona, would you send your children to a school where they would be taught primarily in Catalan?  Please leave comments in the section designated below.  I would love to hear from you.

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