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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Parents and English Only?

“My daughter speaks English to her friends and her brothers. Since we already speak Spanish at home, I think it’s best if she only speaks English at school” stated Karla Martinez.
A Costa Rican native whose kids attend school in New Jersey, Martinez values language for her kids but does not want them in bilingual classes.
That’s what she told school officials when they recommended that her three kids be placed in a bilingual class.
Parents know best. Or do they?
The school officials’ recommendation for the bilingual class was based on the fact that some kids scored poorly on language tests in the first week of classes.
The bilingual program in question only exists for kindergarten through third grade. The idea is to give students with weak English skills an opportunity to acquire the necessary tools to succeed, including the English language.
The advantages of bilingual classes have been proven by research. But in the education of immigrant kids often it’s emotion that rules rather than research.
That’s what happened in California, Massachusetts, and Arizona, which virtually eliminated bilingual education through the initiative process.
In essence, voters were asked to decide between English and Spanish and of course English won.
Voters don’t have time to listen to research. Parents of immigrant kids also to a large extent want their kids to be taught in English not realizing that education goes far beyond the knowledge of this language.
There are plenty of Americans who know English but don’t have the necessary education to succeed. English is one of the basic requirements for education but many others are just as important.
One of them has to do with self-esteem. When kids speaking a language other than English begin school they are faced with a linguistic and culture shock. Some kids do just fine, but many others don’t. For some, merely asking their teacher to go the bathroom can be a serious challenge in an English-only setting.
Dumping kids into an ocean of English-only schools may sound good to people who know little about education.
This idea that English-only education is the best approach is reinforced by the myth that it worked in the past and will also work now.

Historically, kids of immigrants did not do very well since they started school with a language deficit. In the 1920’s 50% of the special education students in New York City were of Italian extraction. They were tested in English and given their low language scores were labeled below average.
Education does not start when kids enter the classroom. At age 5 or 6 kids have had “education” from parents and families. If that “education” has been in a language or culture outside of the U.S., they will need time to catch up.
Bilingual education is a measure to even the playing field by giving kids without solid English language skills the time to reach their American counterparts. The low scores on state tests are often interpreted as lack of academic ability and some kids end up in special education classes.
Bilingual education recognizes that different kinds of tests and a different kind of methodology are necessary to give these kids the best chance for success.
Unfortunately, some people are totally against anything that’s “bilingual,” from education to services in languages other than English. Unlike other countries where being bilingual is viewed as an asset and in many cases indispensable, in the U.S. the bias is toward English and English only.
Sadly, when parents of immigrant kids act on their bias toward English they may not be doing their offspring a favor.
In New Jersey parents can choose to have their kids educated in bilingual education programs or English only. School officials need to work with parents and explain calmly and rationally what’s best for students. Hopefully, parents will listen.
© Domenico Maceri
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

College for Illegal Immigrants?

Georgia and Colorado recently passed strong laws against undocumented workers. Other states are going the other way as they try to integrate unauthorized immigrants.
A new bill approved by the California Assembly would allow undocumented immigrants and their kids to apply for financial aid for college.
California, Texas, New York, Utah, and Washington already allow the children of undocumented residents—illegal immigrants— to attend public colleges and pay the relatively low resident fees. Several other states are considering following suit.
Students from other countries with legal visas, on the other hand, pay the much higher out-of-state rates. At my school, a foreign student pays about $ 750.00 in fees for one of my classes; California residents pay about $ 130.00.
Is it fair? Totally. The educational benefits the kids of undocumented workers receive are paid in full. Their parents work and pay taxes. The taxes mean that they are residents of the state and as such they qualify for the same benefits as other residents.
Undocumented workers don't get all the benefits they are entitled to because of their illegal status. One of the benefits undocumented workers miss out on is Social Security. In the past 10 years, they have contributed more than 20 billion dollars into the system, but they don’t qualify for pensions.
Fortunately, some recent changes in governmental policies are improving the situation of undocumented workers. Several American states such as Utah, North Carolina, and Tennessee believe that since undocumented workers contribute to business, they can have the right to drive legally. The three states don’t require driver’s license applicants to prove that they are in the U.S. legally. They don't require a social security number to apply for a driver's licenses, accepting in its place a taxpayer identification number, which is available to undocumented workers. By giving them a taxpayer identification number, the U.S. is saying that undocumented immigrants can work and pay taxes. Giving their kids the educational benefits makes sense.
In essence, some American officials are beginning to accept the fact that undocumented workers satisfy our business thirst for cheap labor. The undocumented workers’ toil produces benefits for all Americans. Most undocumented workers are employed in the service industry. That means prices of agricultural products are kept down. Consumers pay less for food. Hotel guests pay less for their rooms. Many small contractors would not exist if they had to find union workers who would demand fair treatment in addition to decent wages. In brief, just about every American benefits from the "illegal" work of undocumented workers.
American companies obviously benefit from the presence of undocumented workers. It’s easy to argue that if people are working “illegally,” the companies hiring them are at least just as “guilty” of the crime. Illegal immigration would, in fact, disappear if proper identification were required to obtain employment.
Even those who still believe that illegal immigration is a crime must recognize that the sons and daughter of undocumented workers are not criminals. If anyone committed a crime, the people would be the parents. Many of these kids were brought in the U.S. at very young age. Some of them have little or no connections with the parents’ country. Their plan is to stay in the U.S. and contribute to American society after they graduate.
Although America is a land of immigrants, newcomers have historically not been greeted with a red carpet. Everyone remembers the “No Irish Need Apply” signs. And the treatment of other immigrants reveals similar indignities. Yet, a few generations down the road, when the children of immigrants assimilate fully, they begin looking at their roots and see heroism in their grandparents’ actions.
The same will quite likely happen with undocumented workers. As the children and grandchildren of undocumented workers become integrated into American society, the “illegal” acts of their parents and grandparents could easily be viewed as acts of heroism.
© Domenico Maceri
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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Microprestiti: aiutando le donne ed altri

Il miliardario Americano William Buffett ha deciso di dare la maggior parte della sua fortuna alla fondazione di Bill e Melinda Gates perché ammira la metodologia della coppia miliardaria di costituire fondi per progetti che i governi generalmente considerano troppo rischiosi. I microprestiti fanno parte di questi programmi. Si tratta di piccoli prestiti dati a gente povera in paesi in via di sviluppo per aiutarli a stabilire o ingrandire delle attività commerciali. Le istituzioni bancarie tradizionali di solito schivano questi prestiti perché i profitti sarebbero quasi insignificanti. Inoltre vengono considerati troppo rischiosi perché quelli che ricevono i fondi non possiedono collaterale e le probabilità di ripagarli non sono molto alte. Forse ciò è vero, ma in ogni modo i microprestiti sono una maniera efficace di aiutare donne e famiglie in paesi poveri dato che i benefici alla società in generale superano di larga misura il rischio del ripagamento.
La fondazione di Bill e Melinda Gates recentemente ha donato 3 milioni di dollari a Pro Mujer (Pro Donna), una di queste istituzioni che assiste gente povera a stabilire commerci. Pro Mujer è nata in Bolivia sedici anni fa ed ora serve 140.000 clienti nell'America Latina. Nel Messico il programma ha cominciato ad operare nel 2002 ed ora ha 16.000 clienti. Un programma simile nel Messico è Compartamos (Condividiamo) che serve 400.000 persone. Si tratta di piccole somme, a volte non più di 200 dollari, utili per aiutare una donna a mettere su un’attività commerciale per vendere tamales (cibo tipico messicano) in un villaggio, oppure per fornire i materiali per tessere panieri a mano, allevare galline, o comprare dei prodotti all'ingrosso e rivenderli nel mercato.
Si calcola che più di 100 milioni di persone, la maggior parte donne, usufruiscono di questi piccoli prestiti. I benefici non sono semplicemente economici perché oltre a sfamare la famiglia i soldi nelle mani delle donne significano un beneficio diretto ai bambini dato che la madre mette le necessità dei figli al di sopra di quelle di tutti gli altri, se stessa inclusa. La capacità di mettere su un piccolo commercio offre l'opportunità alle donne di costruire la loro autostima che è di vitale importanza giacché questi microprestiti funzionano principalmente nei paesi in via di sviluppo. A mano a mano che la situazione economica migliora per la donna lo stesso occorre per quella dei bambini.
L'autostima influisce naturalmente anche sui bambini, soprattutto le femminucce, dato che loro vedono con i loro occhi che le donne possono avere una vita al di fuori del lavoro domestico. Ciò forse le ispirerà a fare lo stesso. A volte succede anche che il marito si unisce al commercio della moglie e gli uomini imparano anche loro che le donne possono fare contributi al di fuori della casa. Inevitabilmente le possibilità della scuola entrano a fare parte dei progressi con la migliorata condizione economica, il che è di importanza capitale specialmente per la bambine le quali hanno poche opportunità per studiare nei paesi in via di sviluppo.
Il volto della povertà ha spesso una faccia femminile e si calcola che il 70% dei poveri nel mondo sono donne. Ciò è dovuto a molte ragioni ma una che viene in mente subito è che la donna si prende la responsabilità di curarsi dei figli che consiste di un lavoro a tempo pieno. Quando non vi è un uomo presente nella famiglia significa che la donna deve fare anche il secondo lavoro di guadagnare il pane per i suoi figli. Tutto questo è molto e finanche troppo ma l’estrema povertà a volte non lascia alernative. La disponibilità di un piccolo prestito per mettere su un commercio rappresenta un minimo costo dal punto di vista dell’economia occidentale; per la persona che lo riceve si tratta di un dono del cielo.
Spesso un prestito piccolissimo può rendere in modo molto significativo. Nel 1976 Muhammad Yunus, un professore di economia del Bangladesh, prestò 26 dollari di tasca sua a un gruppo di quarantadue uomini. Dopo avere comprato il materiale per fabbricare sedie e oggetti di terracotta il gruppo riuscì a ripagare il prestito dopo solo una giornata di lavoro. Anche Yunus ci ha guadagnato in modo significativo. Oltre alla soddisfazione di aiutare i poveri il professore di economia ha vinto il Premio Nobel per la pace per il suo lavoro con i microprestiti.
© Domenico Maceri
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