Friday, December 9, 2005

Una Tontería Tremenda

From the Washington Post:

Most of the time, 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.” But Zach is also fluent in his dad’s native language, Spanish — and that’s what got him suspended from school.

“It was, like, totally not in the classroom,” the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. “We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he’s like, ‘Me prestas un dolar?’ [‘Will you lend me a dollar?’] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I’m like, ‘No problema.’ “

But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.

Watts, whom students describe as a disciplinarian, said she can’t discuss the case. But in a written “discipline referral” explaining her decision to suspend Zach for 1 1/2 days, she noted: “This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school.”

Rubio’s suspension was immediately rescinded by the school district, but his family has hired a lawyer. I don’t blame them. This is stunningly stupid on the part of the teacher, not to mention xenophobic and racist. The school has no written policy banning the speaking of another language (if it did, it would probably find itself in court), and they probably teach Spanish as a language course. In many parts of the country — New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida — it would be an event if you didn’t hear Spanish in the hallways of public schools. In my office I am one of the few people who is not completely fluent in Spanish; two years of high school, two semesters of college language requirements, and six years in Albuquerque taught me a lot, but not enough to get by more than haltingly in Spanglish. That’s my fault, and I really envy those who are comfortably bilingual.

The sad thing is that the teacher is of a paranoid mindset that anything said in a language she doesn’t understand means the kids are up to no good, and she’s probably representative of a lot of people who think the same way. Que lastima.