Through a friend, I came across this article (click here to see it) on one family’s “experiment” in “extreme schooling.” It seems dad became a foreign correspondent in Moscow. Part of the family’s decision-making process was, naturally, selecting a school for the kids. This family chose to “experiment” by sending their 5th grade, 3rd grade, and Kindergarten aged kids into Russian language schooling – with no background in Russian. This is not just immersion… this is throw them in and let them sink or swim. Yikes!
In case you think I’m sitting around thinking about this from the perspective of a well-known, pricey, English-language instruction “international school,” I’m not. My kids attend a local school that has all significant instruction in Arabic. The only subjects they take in something else are English, French, and computer. We made that decision because it best met our long term goals. Our goals included full fluency and literacy in Arabic. This is something we couldn’t get at the international schools. We knew that intensive exposure was necessary. So how, then, is what we do different from the story that I saw above? Well, I’ve been thinking about that. It seems to me, it’s alot about attitude. I have never, not once, called our children’s education an experiment. We aren’t experimenting for the sake of something neat. If it doesn’t work out… well, now that’s the point of an experiment isn’t it? It might succeed and it might fail.
We enrolled our children in Arabic language schooling so that would have a stronger connection to half of their heritage. It’s not an experiment that they become fluent, it’s a goal. We don’t throw them into language learning with no support. We have a tutor, we have family, and we are committed. We’re not experimenting on our kids, we’re committed to giving our kids a broader experience. We’re also committed to their success. I assure you it hasn’t been easy. It isn’t easy.
As a Mom, I worry if my kids would feel more confident in their academic abilities if they were in a school that didn’t feature the language that is their weaker. But I also worry that they’d be bored. We have to overcome the fact that Arabic, unlike English, doesn’t value stating your point as briefly as possible. Arabic like flowers, hearts, and obscure words. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that the Beans are constantly having to build vocabulary. There are 3 words you can use to say I think. They hear one of them most often. When asked, they have a hard time coming up with any other one. So, it’s not just about how strong their language is, but what the system values. It values memorizing and giving the teacher what they wanted. They are bridging that gap some these days. But, fundamentally, teaching Arabic features lots of memorizing and using synonyms as much as possible to expand vocabulary.
Now, I don’t know. It seems like these folks found a situation that worked out well for their kids. As a result, I seriously doubt it was really an experiment. I do worry about kids whose parents do approach this type of “extreme schooling” as an “experiment”. After all, how will their kids feel later on. It’s fine if mom and dad aren’t concerned that you effectively barely pass (or don’t) your classes because they’re in another language. But at some point one of 2 things will happen, it seems to me. Either a) they will go into some form of schooling in their stronger language. For these kids, I feel bad because they have likely missed key points of learning (concepts, I mean) in the process of the experiment. The second option is that b) they remain in the second language schooling and fall farther and farther behind their peers. For us, we’re committed. We push hard each year to make sure that ButterBean doesn’t fall far behind. In some subjects she’s not behind at all. In some (like English), she’s ahead. But if we were the type who thought of this as an experiment, would we care this much? Or would we take the path of less resistance, the “it’s not her language” path allowing the kids to end up so far behind that eventually there’s no catching up and no graduating. And what will the child think of their abilities if this should happen? Will we end raising a child who thinks they are dumb or less in some way than their peers? Is that really an experiment we want to undertake? With our children’s education, is failure really an option?
Happy Extreme Schooling!