Saturday, 7 December 2013

Bilingual Education at Six Nations

If someone in say Rexdale Ontario was to hear the words, "bilingual education", the meaning here would be English - French.  French immersion would be a school where English speaking children would be "immersed" and taught in the "other language" for much of the curriculum.  This option seems attractive to many Middle Class parents, who believe that bilingual education is superior, although the present author is not familiar with any scientific studies (facts) comparing outcome for students enrolled in these schools versus the more tradition kind where French is introduced as a second language either in Grade 3 or 7 (for example).  In Santa Ana California, the meaning would be English - Spanish.  At Six Nations, generally the term would refer to English plus one of the Six Nations languages which would be taught as a second language (for those who were not exposed to say Seneca extensively in the home), or there would be an immersion, whereby English would take a back seat while the children were taught in one of the two most "healthy" languages (e.g., in terms of numbers of competent native speakers) on the Reserve - Mohawk or Cayuga.

If the Six Nations can agree to accept the offer of the McKenzie Meadows Development corporation, then they would have the opportunity to establish another of the Kawenni : io, K to 12 private schools, as seen in the link here.
The school offers private Cayuga and Mohawk immersion programmes.  So in 2013, with a curriculum in Ontario that is already being gutted of art and music and everything pared to the bone – how could a school such as this produce an individual who is prepared to compete in the world of 2013 and beyond?  I would like to see some hard evidence as to the efficacy of the French immersion programmes that are popular in the Greater Toronto area.  Perhaps they produce children much better prepared to shoulder roles in the broader Canadian world (e.g., armed forces, civil service) – at the moment if someone was to ask my opinion, it would be to ensure that a child is given the chance to learn Mandarin or Arabic.  However, it is fluency in the English language that is the key which will open the most doors across the world – like it or not, that is the reality which will not change in the foreseeable future.  Travel to Italy and see how many people you can find there to speak in English or French (very very few who are fluent).  However travel north a few miles into Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and especially the Scandinavian countries, one finds that often everyone speaks some English, and many speak it fluently.  The Scandinavians know that the English language is the lingua franca of the world business community and the facility of the average person in English is amazing.

I don’t know the answer to the following questions, but do know that they are critically important.  How many fluent speakers of Cayuga and Mohawk are there who are also certified as teachers in subjects such as maths and sciences?  Can these subjects be taught in Cayuga and Mohawk?  I know a number of excellent speakers of Mohawk and Cayuga who do not reside on the Reserve at present (some reside in the U.S.A.), and are employed in other occupations.  I am not sure how realistic it would be to offer these individuals incentives to obtain their teaching credentials and take the chance on a new avocation when perhaps they are quite content doing what it is they are doing.  Also, there are significant differences between the Mohawk spoken at Six Nations and Tyendinaga, and the dialect used at Akwesasne and Kanawaki.  This could be a problem in recruiting suitable applicants.  Cayuga is more problematic in that the largest number of Cayuga came up to Six Nations with a lesser number scattered about Reservations in New York State.  Hence recruitment would generally tap into only those who are connected with Six Nations - thereby restricting the eligible pool of candidates.
The answers to these questions must be addressed before any attempt to supplant the Ontario curriculum with “alternate” educational strategies.  People can speak Cayuga or Mohawk in the home, and there can be weekend classes – but Six Nations people must ask, will their children thrive under such a programme?  How much support is there out there for an unproven school curriculum which could torpedo a child’s chances at success in for example getting into McMaster University Medical School?  Is there not an urgent need for medical personnel with ties to the Community?  This brings up the conflict over the First Nations Educational Act that the Federal Government wants to put in place.  In an editorial (TIN, 27 November, 2013, p. 4), Lynda Powless calls for more local input, and greater cultural and language recognition (to help erase the “stain” of the Residential School system), and for the Federal Government to address the perceived chronic underfunding of the system.  I am not at all versed sufficiently, so will only offer up the obvious – one cannot have everything.  By sticking to a curriculum that is offered to all Canadians, it means that someone from Six Nations should have the skills to compete for jobs and positions in post – secondary education where professional training will yield better jobs and a better standard of living.  I am not at all convinced that immersing children in the full cultural – linguistic environment envisioned by those who want to rid the educational system on the Reserves of conformity is doing justice to those who will be most directly impacted.  Be very very careful in what you ask for – you may one day have occasion to regret “demanding” something that is counter productive to producing future community leaders who can walk comfortably in two worlds – something that to me is a laudable goal.  The same demands were made in some American schools for a more “Black centred” educational system.  Alas, I have not seen any examples where the implementation of this sort of amendment to what other students will be exposed to will in any way shape or form allow African – American students to acquire the skills needed to enter the work force with the necessary tools to allow them to become stock brokers, or CEOs or CFOs or really to be in a position to obtain any high profile high powered job in Government or industry where they are on a level playing field with other competitors (e.g., Hispanic).  In many cases this will simply be a formula for failure that could be foreseen long in advance, but because it was not politically expedient no one stopped the freight train and as a consequence, Black kids fall further behind and disillusionment is even more pervasive. 

Perhaps there is something to be learned by studying the experience of in the Celtic fringe of the British Isles.  Although the apparent last Cornish speaker, John Davey died in 1891, see here, the culture has never been so vibrant - see here.  While there are attempts to try to revive the language, it is not essential to the feeling of being Cornish, which is more about knowing that one’s roots lie not in the Anglo-Saxon invaders, but in the native Celtic – speaking Britons who were pushed to the far west margins of the country.  I wonder sometimes if there is something to be learned in finding out exactly how the attempts to weave language and culture into the curriculum in schools in Wales, Ireland and Scotland (as well as Cornwall England) has impacted the children’s ability to compete.  My sense is that they have found a formula which works for them.  I am not saying that by applying this approach directly here, we would see the same success, but it would be worth investigating before committing to something that may simply drag Six Nations students further toward to poverty line and send the message that they can only “make it” locally.  Should we not be sending the message that you can be whatever you want to be with the proper background, parental encouragement, community involvement, and a knowledge of the standard curriculum expected of all Canadian students?  A diploma from a respected school at Six Nations and a High School leaving certificate from say Caledonia or Hagersville High Schools should open the doors to higher education or business success.  Anything which impedes this progress will inevitably slow the progress of Six Nations children in transitioning to take advantage of the many opportunities “out there”.

In a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto at the end of November, Manley said it raised serious questions about Canada’s preparedness for an increasingly knowledge-based economy.
“[A]s a Canadian, what really troubles me is the growing body of evidence that shows Canada is falling behind when it comes to equipping its citizens with the broad knowledge and cross-cutting skills that are required to succeed in life, and in an increasingly competitive global economy,” Manley said, according to a copy of his speech, see here

So if Canada is falliing behind, we must be very aware of making changes that will negatively affect the children of Six Nations - ensuring that they are not being set up for falling behind students in schools across Canada.  It is all very tricky, but it is necessary to be very honest about what various choices will likely mean to the students of Six Nations.  Clearly, intuitive opinions are not what is needed.  It would be terribly unfair to the youth of Six Nations not to "do right" by them and ensure that they will be put on a footing which will prepare them for the world at large.  Perhaps the Kawenni : io Schools are clearing the best path for Six Nations students, but that is far from evident at this point in time.


No comments:

Post a Comment