By Pamela Price
If I tell you that I'm a native Texan who homeschools her kid outside San Antonio, then you may draw a lot of conclusions right away.
For instance, you may think that:
1. I reject both evolutionary theory and the idea of climate change as hogwash.
2. I regard non-native speakers suspiciously and call them all "foreigners."
3. I support the idea of a border fence between Texas and Mexico.
4. I say "y'all" a lot.
Only one of those statements is true. I’ll try now to tip you off to which of the three are incorrect:
We’re striving to provide our Kindergartner with an open-minded world view.
I guess, in a word, that's teaching a child to be "global."
So how does one go about nurturing an appreciation for a wider world and the people in it when the teacher’s desk is the kitchen table?
Well, it's a lot easier than you might think. For starters, we decided to teach Spanish as a second language beginning with Kindergarten. We had other options, of course. We’ve already dabbled in French and Chinese. Latin and Greek are really big among homeschoolers. Yet here in Texas--an hour or so as the crow flies to the border--Spanish is at once accessible, cosmopolitan, and downright friendly.
A few weeks ago my son and I encountered a Mexican gentleman shopping with his family. My son, using his elementary Spanish knowledge, struck up a conversation. It was brief but warm. The man was charmed and my kid was ecstatic that they could converse together one-to-one.
Later in the car my son and I discussed the man's cheerful reaction. We puzzled through how and why we humans like to be "met" with familiar words, especially when we're away from home. We reflected too on how during a recent trip abroad that even the most feeble of attempts at French were greeted with enthusiasm. At the center of the impromptu lesson the notion of "respect" was revealed. We discussed that, too. A rich, post-Target expedition talk resulting from the kind of chat summed up at the front of every college-level Spanish textbook:
¡Hola! ¿Como se llama? Me llamo Pablo.
It was pure gold. A remarkable teachable moment right there on the linoleum next to racks of cheap Missoni textiles.
Eat your heart out, Socrates.
Once one opens that kind of door to the world through language, of course, some new issues may arise over time. For instance, when he's old enough to understand that “border fence” idea, we may have to parse through some heavy issues related to language, race, and nationality. Given that San Antonio proper was founded by Spanish speakers and much of the older architecture reflects Spain more than England, Scotland or Denmark (our ancestors' homelands), I can envision a heart-to-heart about who "decides" who must be kept at bay with that fence. What are the political motivations for the respective parties? Financial incentives? What are the alternatives? How do facts counter stereotypes? Or, for instance, what does the rest of the world fail to understand about the the many otherwise "conservative" landowners along the border who oppose the fence? How and where does language come up short in explaining an individual point-of-view?
Will we use Spanish to discuss these ideas? Maybe. Or we may have moved on to Russian or Italian. In whatever language we use to converse and debate important world matters as our son matures, we'll definitely take into those conversations one of the best lessons learned through the study of a foreign language: Showing respect opens wide one's windows to the world.
Yep, even if one still breaks out with a hearty "y'all" in everyday conversation.