Ursula Casanova

URSULA CASANOVA

Ursula Casanova from Arizona State University, Tempe Arizona.

Uh, schools uh—in order to respond to parental involvement in—in ways that are appropriate, they have to understand the differences in their upbringing suppose to their own upbringing. Uh, what I mean by that is that the um—we—most people who are teaching are uh—come from middle class families and they have certain expectations and those expectations uh may not be the same. For example, uh some of the—of the children in our poorer schools in poverty areas uh don’t have—the parents don’t have the luxury of taking off from work. They have to have uh—they have to earn the salary because they don’t get time off. They don’t get paid if they get—take time off. Uh, they have—uh, sometimes they have linguistic differences that uh perhaps uh they are afraid to speak—uh to try to speak English. Uh, sometimes they may have gone to the school and not be understood properly and so that puts additional restraints on their behavior. Or they may think that their role is to be parents and not to interfere with the school. Um, many parents uh, uh come from uh settings, from cultures where uh the school is—is pretty much dominant and the parents don’t have a lot to say and so they may not see their role as any more then endorsing the schools uh activities. And uh that may be a different way of behaving. So I think one of the—of the things that we have to start with is to think uh that all parents are interested in their children—uh, in their children’s welfare, in their children’s uh academic uh advancement, but not all parents may reflect in the same way. And that uh being different doesn’t mean being uninterested. And that is sometimes misread.

Uh, yeah. It’s an in—it’s an interesting thing that (interruption) Uh, the uh—it is interesting that uh during the last several years there has been a lot of emphasis on what parents can do when parents should be in charge and uh today I heard uh parental empowerment. Uh, well that’s all well and good except that we also have had in the last several years some pretty horrific examples of parental abuse and we should by now be aware that parents are no different then the rest of us. That we try to behave well but sometimes we don’t behave well. And parental behavior is not always easy to read. Uh, parents who push their children to always excel may or may not be doing it for the best uh thing of the children, for the best future of the children, they may be doing it for their own enhancement, for their own glory. Uh, parents who don’t come to school as often may have other reasons. May have a job that they cannot leave and they may have uh to uh—to stay home. I—some years ago um we uh were working in—in research with at-risk children. Uh, we had a parent tell us that—said, “The school complains that I don’t come. But all I can do is keep a roof over their heads and food on their table.” She was working at a convenience store from 7 o’clock at night to 7 o’clock in the morning. The oldest boy was 8 years old. He was taking care of the younger children. Well, that’s not ideal but on the other hand that boy was learning a lot of responsibility and the parent was doing the best she could and we don’t always understand that. And we romanticize the parents who are in the schools all the time and who participate, but they’re often middle-class parents who’s uh—who’s uh enjoyment is being in the school and that’s wonderful. My own daughter and her husband have spent a lot of time in the schools. They can do that, but not all parents can do that.

The principal can help a whole lot by creating a culture in the school that is a culture of welcoming. A culture where diversity is not only accepted but also encouraged. Where children are not afraid to speak the language they speak at home. Where parents feel welcome. Where there’s somebody there to speak to them in their own language or if not somebody available who can help intervene when there uh is a need. Uh, where children see themselves in the activities of the school, in instructional materials, in the pictures that are around the schools, the decorations around the school. Where they feel like this is a part of them and not an alien environment where they must fit. Uh, they have—the principals can do a lot by promoting in teachers that willingness to uh deal with conflicts when they occur because cultural conflicts occurred when you have different cultures represented in a—in a school. And if we learn to deal with conflict as a way to learn to better understand each other, we can go a long ways. Uh, we have—we have conflicts. We understand things differently. The things I value may not be the things that the other person values. Uh, and I have to be able to learn what is it that this other person values and how is that different from what I value and how can we come to an agreement.

Um, I remember uh in trying to uh—to modify the school environment when I came in as principal of a—of an elementary school years ago, one of the things I did—I was the first Spanish-speaking principal in a (?) school uh where most of the parents and children uh were Spanish-speaking. We also had some Turkish children in this school, uh new immigrants as well. And what—what uh happened as a result of that was that I spoke Spanish as necessary and the children spoke Spanish as they wanted and the Turkish children spoke Turkish around them and the parents uh were welcomed by—we got a Turkish volunteer to come in and—and uh work with the Turkish children and work in their language uh both in Turkish and in English. And as a result um teachers would come in, like art teachers or other teachers who would come in and would say, “You know, the children here speak up. When we have Puerto Rican children in other schools I—they never volunteer anything. But hear you can’t stop them.” And I said, “Well, it may be because we allow them. They have permission to speak in whatever language comes first.” And sometimes it’s English and sometimes it’s Spanish. And so do the parents. So I think that’s part of the principal, also creating that kind of an atmosphere where “Hey, we’re all here together and we’re family and—and we are different sometimes.”

Politics and bilingual education are—are bad, bad fellows. But politics is not absence—absent from any educational endeavor. Education is always meshed in politics because politics uh seeks to develop uh controlled mechanisms in a society and—and education seeks to loosen up the mind uh beyond the control of the society. We—we want people to—we want to free children’s minds—that should be part of our role—from constrains that—that keep them from being everything they can be. And uh so it is interesting that um in a democracy it seems like that’s one of our goals in a democracy. So I wish we would spend more time trying to free children’s minds so they can be good citizens in a democracy rather then constrain them as—as we do when we uh don’t enable them to—to use the language they are uh born speaking and—or the lan—or to enhance that language as they develop. And it is uh—it is very sad that we do that. It is also interesting, if you want to look at—if one wants to look at the role of politics and bilingual education, it’s interesting to look at the difference between—in the way that gifted and talented education versus bilingual education have been dealt with in the Federal government. If you look at the history and I have, what you find is that gifted and talented education has been though of as just this wonderful thing that—that is available to children who have special talents when in fact there is no research that supports that children who have—who participate in gifted and talented education do any better in their futures then children who don’t. There is no data—there are no data to support that and yet we accept gifted and talented education as a wonderful thing while at the same time we have the knowledge—we understand that children—adults who speak more then one language have an advantage in the workplace, have an advantage socially as they travel, and yet that is seemed as—as a bad thing for people. So, you know, it is that interesting dichotomy that we value uh and disvalue according to what uh we think is good for kids without really looking at the data that tells you what uh—what may be possible for kids.

Well, you know, Carlos Fuentes uh once said, “By monolingualism is a curable disease” and uh I go with that. You know, we have uh—US citizens don’t have a good reputation in foreign countries because of their lack of linguistic capacity. Uh, here we are a country of immigrants. Uh we have wasted so much linguistic resource in this country. Uh, and I’m talking about way back beginning with the Indians. And, you know, all through the centuries we have not valued uh the linguistic resources that are available. And as a result uh we have situations like, for example, way back in Iran those uh—those hostages that were taken during Jimmy Carter’s uh presidency, there was nobody in the—in the embassy who could speak Farcies at the time. You know, it’s very difficult to live in communities where you are engaged in—in possible potential conflict relationships and not have people who speak the language. Uh, it’s also a handicap in terms of—of selling. I think—I’m not sure if it’s the Japanese or somebody has said before that you can buy in any language but you can’t sell in any language. To be able to sell effectively your best, that is to speak the language of the buyer. And so there’s an economic reason to do this, to be able to enhance all these languages that we have and develop uh people—the capacity within our people to—to go and engage in anything uh cultural and—and uh economic activities that—that enhance the countries welfare altogether.

I wish that if I had my—my uh—if I had a lot of money, if I had a foundation, I would take every teacher who is going to be teaching uh children who speak other languages, I would take them into a place where they don’t know the language at all and I would put them in a situation where they’re under somebody else’s control, which is what we do to children. They come into a school, they’re under a controlled situation, they don’t have an option whether to stay there or not, they’re parents aren’t there to help them, nobody’s there, and we expect them to accept that and to go on with life as though there was no difference in their lives. Um, it is a very difficult thing for somebody to learn a second language. I wish every teacher who is working with children with other languages—speakers of other languages, would also try to learn—excuse me—try to learn to—to speak, and read, and write another language and—so they could understand. My understanding of the process of reading and writing—because I grew up in Puerto Rico and I grew up learning both Spanish and English uh very quickly, and I don’t really remember much about learning English, although Spanish was my first language and the first language I used in literacy—but um when I took—as an adult I took Russian and I was given Russian lessons to read and to speak and—and all that, it was so overwhelming, I quit. I’m sorry to say because the difference between the sounds that I learned speaking and the sounds coming back at me from somebody responding and the way the uh writing was when I wrote or when it was printed, it—all of these things were all different and I suddenly realized what it takes for a child, any child, even in—in its own language to learn to read. Now the—the complexity of that in other languages is—is even more uh when they’re trying to learn another language. It is also another—I don’t want to put it all negatively, however, because the other thing is that I wish teachers would understand the—how the language that one speaks at—at birth—at the beginning of one’s life, the language, the mother language—even before a child is born they become a tune to the languages that their parents speak, their mother in particular. How much that is a part of one’s soul. How depriving somebody of the language of the language that they speak is taking something very precious away from them and it—it’s something that—that uh cannot be understood by somebody who hasn’t gone through the experiences that I have mentioned of being some place where they’re alone, where they’re language is not valued, where they’re language is not spoken, where they’re language is not understood. Uh, (?) a Puerto Rican sociologist uh said—talking about his uh early school years when he first came to school. He was uh talking to a teacher, he quotes an interac—interaction with a teacher and he said uh, “A teacher said to me, ‘Now that you’re hear, you’re going to learn English.’” And someone said, “Oh, yes, yes. Ci-ci.” And then the teacher said, “And you’re going to forget Spanish.” And he said, “Oh, no.” And he said, “You know, education is not about forgetting. Education is not about unlearning. Education is about valuing.” And valuing what a child brings to school is a very basic part of education.

Some of the things that are important to teach—for teachers to understand are beyond bilingual education. For example, uh the—the fact that we know that a children—a child’s um behavior—a child’s—excuse me. I’m sorry. Let me start over again. Um, we know that children learn best when they start from what they know already. That going from what—from the known to the unknown is the way whether we’re learning mathematics, whether we’re learning language, whether we’re learning art. You star from what the child knows. That is the basic ideological truism. We know that. We also know that children—all of us need to be valued for who we are. And so valuing what the child brings, including language, is a very important part of—of the pedagogy of—for any subject matter. So if a child is uh—is um different from other children, whether they’re handicapped or whether they speak another language, or whatever, we need to value what they are and not what they’re not. And if we start with that and think of—of those things as basic pedagogy, then the—we understand—you transfer that to language learning. You have to understand that we need to value what the children bring. If the child is in a situation where they cannot learn, where they cannot be taught in their first language—if that unfortunate situation occurs, then they should—at least their first language—excuse me. I’m sorry. Uh, if a child cannot uh be in a situation where the first language is taught, then at the very least their first language ought to be valued in some way. Uh, maybe by the way the teacher maybe uses it sometimes, maybe by bringing people who speak the language to the school, maybe by uh having books that have—that use the language of the child and many other ways that we can do it to enhance the child’s perception that they are valued in that setting.

My—my major concern at this time is the um way in which uh—excuse me. My main concern at this time regarding the education of linguistically diverse children is um the punitive way in which we’re dealing with these children. Um, the laws passed in Californian and now in Arizona and that may be passed in other states are—first of all they’re devious in the way that they’re presented to the public. For example, in Arizona it was “English For The Children,” as though children who are in bilingual programs, they’d learn English, which is not true. Um, they are uh presented in a punitive way by people who have no understanding of things like what it is like to be in a place where you’re under someone else’s control and the language being used is not your own and who have to abide by rules they do not understand and by uh customs that are foreign to them. And these children are being punished because of what they are. So we’re not valuing what they are. We’re saying, “What you are is not good enough. You must be something else. And until you’re that, you cannot be valued.” And what we do with that is we are producing a whole generation of children who uh are not going to be very happy with themselves. And we know that one of the features of human life is that people who are happy with themselves are better people. They contribute more, they are more active, they are better and successful at work. Uh, you know, we know that but what we’re doing is—is—English is not the only way to think. English is not the only way to sing. There are other ways to do it and we want children to do everything they can in every way. We want them to learn English and other languages. We want them to learn about Jazz and we want them to learn about Salsa. We want them to be all they can be. We want them to write, we want them to draw. These things are not beyond the potential of children. They are rely—realizable goals that we can reach if—if we accept children as they are and start there and move them on.