Apr 25 2011

i’m so LA


After a lengthy break-up with the New York Times, I’ve started a relationship with the LA times and things are going swimmingly. I like the LA times and I really, despite my earlier prejudices, love LA. Me and the LA times spent the morning reading about bilingual education and closing the racial achievement gap. Brava LA times, brava!

Both articles address self-esteem as a critical factor for achievement. Unsurprisingly, students of color (who are the majority of English language learners) do drastically better on standardized tests when they are told or when they read about and believe in their potential to succeed. While this is common sense, it’s also just really sad. I mean if so much of the effects of racism could be addressed just be performing love, support, caring and building self-esteem on the daily, it’s really disheartening that we haven’t, as a culture, done that writ large. In fact, we, as a culture, do the opposite daily (read more about microaggressions here). I’m really glad that there are classrooms in our nation where this isn’t the case, but I’m disheartened by the fact that it’s not the case in every single classroom from  California to the New York islands.

Let me just go on ahead and digress before I get too upset.

Teaching math in Spanish may very well come with cognitive advantages. The way that the concept of equal is expressed in Spanish may actually help students better understand how to solve for x when they learn algebra. The jury’s still out on the data here - but learning math is language based and research has shown that the structure of Chinese numbers makes it easy for students to learn base ten counting. Still, looking at language while controlling for economics, culture, gender, teacher education and all that jazz make finding an answer complicated and challenging. I mean, there’s a wide array of levels of achievement in Latin America, with Cuba at the top (so obviously it’s not all language). There’s also a lot of women (comparatively) teaching math in Cuba too.  Anyway – my point is this – we already know that people learn better when their native language is respected and likewise their dignity is honored. So that alone justifies teaching math in Spanish (or whatever other language students speak). However let’s not stop there, let’s look at what might work specifically in Spanish and in English, giving students the linguistic and literacy skills to use both and the historical knowledge that folks of color can be and are brilliant mathematicians and students, cause apparently, that can make all the difference.

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