Should poor, African-American students learn Mandarin?
It’s not an academic question. In NE Portland, the two K-8 schools with under-enrollments (here) that I’ve targeted as possible locations for a new Mandarin (or Japanese) immersion program are both predominately poor with a majority of African-American students. King Elementary School has 54.9% African-American students with 92.8% receiving free or reduced priced meals (here). Humboldt Elementary, just to the west of King elementary, has 58.3% African-American students with 87.7% receiving free or reduced priced meals (here).
I fear that parents of the current and prospective African-American students at both King and Humboldt, and others in the African-American communities caring about educational issues at these two schools, will not view discussions, for example, of locating a Mandarin immersion program at either school positively. And I fear that the Board and staff of PPS, sensing reluctance or opposition from the African-American community, and perhaps with some old stereotypes about what is and is not appropriate for poor or African-American students, will seek to avoid the issues by looking elsewhere for new Mandarin immersion locations.
Foreign language immersion programs are not some boutique, non-essential, specialty educational offering for white, middle-class-and-up students, but essential educational programs for tomorrow’s multilingual workforce in a very competitive global economy. Every student needs access to a foreign language immersion program.
Immersion programs are good for the brains of young students. Immersion students do better on standardized tests and, over time, develop English skills at least as good as those not in immersion programs.
For students with disadvantage backgrounds, immersion programs somewhat level the playing field. Almost all new kindergarteners in a Mandarin immersion program, for example, come to the first class with no background whatsoever in Mandarin. It can enable disadvantaged students to feel successful.
Developing fluency in a second language gives high school graduates an additional marketable skill.
For poor students in immersion programs, it is essential that PPS develop a high school study abroad which pays for students to spend a year of high school in China and elsewhere. High school study abroad should not benefit just those with money.