IYL '08: Moratorium on beating kids for speaking mother tongue?

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Wed Jan 2 16:16:26 UTC 2008


Happy New Year 2008, which is the "International Year of Languages"! *

 

Whatever else might be accomplished during IYL, one modest proposal I would
like to put forward is that during this Year, there be an absolute
prohibition on beating, shaming or otherwise punishing children for speaking
their mother tongue at home or at school.

 

All the rest is commentary.

 

Punishing children for speaking their mother tongue is not new - one can
read a lot about this of this sort of thing in biographical accounts (formal
and informal) from all over the world, and that is just the tip of the
iceberg. What is surprising is that it still continues even in extreme
forms. For example, I just received an email from someone in Tanzania who
mentioned teachers threatening young students with a beating if they spoke
their maternal language. Not long ago there was mention in an article of
some parents in Uganda beating their kids for speaking something other than
English at home. (Those are just two examples from one region.).

 

Some people will justify some kind of punishment for whatever reason
(curriculum, language learning, etc.). The kind of punishment is another
issue (important but another issue). But the issue here is that if learning
is the object in an obviously multilingual setting, there are better ways to
achieve it than by condemning maternal languages as out of place and
punishing students who use them in the process f learning.

 

This is not to say that language in a multilingual classroom or community is
not a complex issue, but that negative approaches to children's first
languages - which in some places go all the way to corporal punishment - are
negative approaches to learning and to various social factors in a child's
life.

 

Once the punishing of children for speaking their mother tongue stops, then
maybe some good thinking can go into what are the best ways to promote
learning overall, including in first and second languages.

 

It should also become clear from a moratorium on punishing children for
speaking their mother tongue for the duration of IYL (all of 2008) that the
alternative to such punishment is not babel and ignorance. 

 

So can this practice be stopped, at least for just this one year?

 

Don Osborn

 

 

* see the UNESCO page at http://tinyurl.com/2u2ewd

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