Friday, June 04, 2010

is it the public schools job to provide interpreters?

Willamette week editorial--

No speak-a Español.

That was a refrain Latina activist Marta Guembes heard in many forms of broken Spanish as she embarked last month on a one-woman undercover investigation of Portland Public Schools.

Guembes, perhaps best known for advocating the renaming of 39th Avenue for César E. Chávez, wanted to know how different schools in Oregon’s largest school district would respond if she called their main offices and pretended to speak only Spanish.

Guembes’ stealth investigation over a two-day period [on her own time] in April of the district’s system for helping immigrant parents wasn’t the result of a whim. The state Department of Education found in 2009 that PPS wasn’t doing everything state and federal law required to communicate with non-English-speaking parents.

As a result of such problems as PPS’s failure to send home materials consistently to parents in their native languages, the state Department of Education decided at the start of this school year to withhold more than $600,000 in federal funds from the district. "


Guembes discovered that about 30 of the districts 85 schools had no system in place to handle non-English telephone calls or a student might be recruited as a translator.
"at Wilson high school, a receptionist hung up on Guembes. And the other at Laurelhurst K-8 school the person who answered the telephone told her, "you should speak English."

And to those who say the non-English-speaking parent should be the one who’s responsible for finding an English-speaking friend or relative on their end of the line, Guembes says schools should be respectful of everyone’s culture and at the very least not be rude on the phone.


Okay, several issues. The argument is that the Hispanic population is on the increase in Portland HOWEVER unless there was a lot of work visas handed out, MOST should know some English.

But going beyond the issue of illegal immigration, how many languages is the school district or any other public or private office supposed to support?

(Remember the controversy about the state of Oregon wanting to hire a Klingon translator)

Granted, being unable to communicate due to a language barrier can be frustrating, and if I were to visit a foreign country and went unprepared to speak the language and that country, I can imagine it would be very frustrating. However, if I decided to move and live in that country, it would be in my best benefit to learn the language of that country.

providing a translator is a service and should not be a requirement.

of course, public schools such as Ashland is working to fix that problem by requiring all first grade students in the Ashland school district to begin learning Spanish next year and will continue their lessons each year through 12th grade.

at least that takes care of one language.

7 Comments:

Blogger Bobkatt said...

I agree with one statement the lady made, you shouldn't be rude on the phone. That's it. If the parents don't speak any English and the kids can't translate too bad they are definitely at a disadvantage but it's not the governments job to rectify every disadvantage.

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Robin,

Like many things this is not a clear cut either/or. It's the public school's job to educate the public. Younger individuals get less say in whether or not they can opt out of this system. That's implicit in the choices we allow or don't allow students. Early on, students are required to go to school and everyone takes the classes that are assigned to them. Later (high school) they can choose some classes and have the option to drop out. Later still ( state college ) it becomes opt in.

We do things this way not as a charity but because one of the best things we can do to maintain a healthy, competitive, economy, is to have a well educated public. Part of that public includes those who are non-English speaking or have non-English speaking parents.

If the students don't speak English then they should be taught how to speak English as quickly as possible. It doesn't take too long and, considering what a handicap not being able to speak English is in the USA, it's probably the most valuable thing they will learn.

If the parents don't speak English and it starts to interfere with the education of large numbers of children then the school system should step in. This may involve hiring translators. It is not catering to parents. It is about teaching children.

A good comparison is to the school busing system. Some kids are at a disadvantage because they live too far from school to get there easily. We don't say "it's not the government's job to rectify every disadvantage, get yourself to school". Instead, we help out by providing transportation. Other kids live closer to school and don't need this assistance. No big deal. We help students who need help. Again, it's not about catering to parents. It's about teaching children.

The question you ask: "how many languages is the school district or any other public or private office supposed to support?" is the wrong question. I think a better question is "which languages do schools need to support?" Obviously not German if you don't have any kids in the schools whose parents both only speak German. Not Chinese either if you have 5 kids in the district whose parents only speak Chinese. Perhaps Spanish if you have 1000 kids in the school district whose parents only speak Spanish. Almost certainly Spanish if 95% of your students have parents who only speak Spanish. I don't know what the threshold is but there should be one.

The Ashland plan to teach all kids Spanish is probably doomed to failure. However the purpose of that initiative is not to overcome language barriers (as you imply). It is to teach kids a second language.

One thing that I think we both can agree on is that teaching math, history, science, social studies, classes in a foreign language is a waste of time.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

Anon 5:17
could not agree with you more

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