By Alice Lapuerta
Photo Credit: MIKI Yoshihito
One would think that for a multicultural family the answer’s obvious: yes, of course you send your daughter to a bilingual school! How can you even pose this question! Nevertheless I hesitated. I pondered. I weighed my choices back and forth in my mind. You see, it’s not that easy.
I talked to people about this and am surprised at the great amount of arguments that I heard against taking such a step.
A recurring one is: “But all her friends are going to the local school here!” (true, true …) as well as “But the school is so far away, at the other end of town! And here you have a really good elementary school right next door! How can you think of driving so far every day?” Indeed.
The recurrent argument being: “But how can you even think about tearing your child out of its familiar environment! She’ll be completely isolated!”
This is where I tell myself, now wait a minute. What kinds of assumptions are being made here? If we send our daughter to said bilingual school, the whole family will suffer because…
- the school is too far away,
- she will lose all her friends,
- she will be isolated,
- and therefore be dreadfully unhappy,
- and anyhow, who says that the bilingual school is any better than the local school? The teachers there might be as bad as anywhere else. There are bad apples in every basket, they tell me.
All these arguments made me uneasy.
So, as a pathological list maker, I made not one, but four lists:
Plus points for sending my daughter to the bilingual school:
- Language development opportunity in English and German.
- She will see that she is not the only child learning more than a language.
- Since the school is more multicultural, she’ll fit in well with the other kids.
- The teachers, some of whom have trilingual families themselves, completely understand our situation and will be supportive of her language development. In our case, a “bad” teacher is a teacher who doesn’t understand our situation.
- She will end up as a true balanced bilingual.
Minus points for sending my daughter to the bilingual school:
- School is too far away, no school bus, so need to drive.
- She might lose touch with local friends.
- She might get isolated.
Plus points for sending my daughter to the local, German-only school:
- It’s right next-door.
- All of her friends go there.
- She knows the school.
- They learn English from first grade on as well. Once a week.
Minus points for sending my daughter to the local, German-only school:
- Little to no English.
- Very little emphasis on multiculturalism.
- She might be the “odd” one there.
- Will the teachers really understand her situation?
On analyzing my list, we concluded that the two main points we were concerned with were: fostering my daughter’s bilingual development versus the fact that the school is “too far away.”
So what did we decide? What did all of this deliberation lead to?
In the end, we came to the conclusion that getting up an hour earlier is but a small sacrifice to make.
We enrolled her in the bilingual school.
Two years later, I can’t believe that distance and having to get up an hour earlier was even thought of as an issue! None of the minus points against the school turned out to be a problem. Our children are going to a school that is different from the locals, but they have not lost touch with their local friends here. They are not “isolated.”
However, I am glad that my husband and I thought through everything ahead of time. The lists, if anything, have helped us define what we want for our daughter and the concerns that were on our minds. We have also been able to look back at our lists to remind ourselves that yes, everything is going along just fine.
Have you had to decide where to send your child to school? Did you have a similar choice between a bilingual school and a non-bilingual school? What was your choice? Are you happy with your choices?