Rodriguez's essay, "Aria, A Memoir if a Bilingual Childhood,"
he makes a compelling argument for conformity as a value system
as taught by the educational system in this country. He writes
about the love and comfort he experienced at home with his parents
and siblings, all speaking the parents native language, Spanish.
He seems to think he is writing as essay discussing bilingual
education. Instead the essay tells the story of the school
system's strong need for its students to conform even at the
cost of the child's relationship with his parents.
Learning is quite a natural state for children. There is no
proof that the structured classroom setting is superior to the
close attention that comes from a homeschooled environment. Until
Rodriguez learned to comfortably speak English in class he
felt left out, describing himself as "socially disadvantaged."
What really made him disadvantaged, in my opinion, was being
torn from the inner workings or his parents lives that their
common language provided. The family had been greatly encouraged
to speak English at home by teachers at the children's school
and his parents' willingness to do anything for their children
made them stop speaking Spanish to them. His parent's English,
especially his father's, was halting and he embarrassed Richard.
His parents' inability to understand him in his new language
frustrated him, because it broke a very important bond that had
existed between them. He even stopped calling them mama and papa.
When the Rodreguez family had spoken Spanish amongst themselves
and with other relatives, they experienced a family cohesiveness,
saw the language as a secret code for belonging. It is nature's
design for the young to be nurtured and protected until they
are able to go off on their own. For humans this can be until
the teen years. The most important people in children's lives
are their parents, more so then even their siblings or friends.
It is through our relationship with our parents that provides
us with our value system and our cultural standards. The home
is where we build our identity. It is the place where our outside
accomplishments are less important. "We are all insiders,"
as Mr. Rodriguez says. "It is where we belong."
Rodriguez puts a startling emphasis on public belonging at
the expense of his private identity and his family life. As soon
as he first speaks in English in school, when he has successfully
conformed to the outside worlds standards he feels like an adult.
In reality he is only between 8-10, an age one still needs ones
His parents had stopped speaking to him in Spanish for years.
What had he lost from not knowing them? What further respect
was lost to see them struggle to express themselves in English,
a language he now adopted as his public identity in which they
did not share? What deep feelings could they convey to each other
in this new language? The parents were unable to communicate
sufficiently in English to offer him understanding or guidance.
For many people like Richard
the answer to getting and education and maintaining these important
ties to our families and our cultures would have been homeschooling.
He is not taught conformity. He is free to make and participate
in his curriculum from a young age. Many homeschoolers participate
more in the real world than in the artificial environment that
is our classrooms. One mother of a homeschooler told me that
when their friend ran for mayor, they helped in his campaign
as a civics lesson. The child spent time at the election headquarters
and learned about voting and registration. He also took walks
with the candidate around the district and learned about campaigning
from a close vantage point. (Zeise) These were lessons not possible
from a state approved text book, in a sterile class room.
Homeschooling would help to sustain and strengthen the bonds
and respect a child feels for his parents and for the immigrant's
child it would help to maintain his ties to his culture. Homeschoolers
need not be told by the government "no child is left behind"
because a lesson isn't completed until it's learned. Few homeschoolers
would reach teen years unable to read and write or do simple
math equations as happens in our public schools.
For children of color it is an extra bonus seeing as how 90%
of our school teachers are white. These children also "must
attend schools in the 120 of the worst school districts in the
Mr. Rodriguez is so happy to belong to his public identity
that he fails to grasp we belong to ourselves. What about an
inner life?" What about what really matters in a good life?"
While it may be uncomfortable not knowing the language speaking
fluent English is not a panacea for suicide, divorce, or failure.
As Mr. Gatto notes in his essay What
Really Matters: "Does going to school matter if it takes
away time to love your family? What matters in a good life?"
Mr. Rodriguez would have us believe that sacrificing a relationship
with his parents to fit in made him a better person, but to me
his words told a different story.
You may contact Susan Crawford at .