Baltimore students' book builds multiculturalism

March 05, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

The extraordinary event happened in a classroom at one of those much maligned Baltimore City public schools. In the first semester of the 1996-1997 school year, Lamar Shields' Spanish class wrote a children's book with a multicultural theme.

On Monday, most of that class came on their own time - some even gave up lunch - to discuss the book, "The First Day of School." The 26 Baltimore City College students wrote the story themselves. Rodney Kitchen and Sean Dorsey handled the color illustrations. The book, written in Spanish and English, is designed to give youngsters ages 4 through 8 "exposure to different cultures at an early age," according to Shields.

It may do more than that. This book may be the building block of a curriculum designed to introduce American students to Spanish at an early age, thus starting a nationwide trend that will see American students graduating from high school fluent in Spanish. Similar books could be done in French, with similar results.

I've got news for the anti-multiculturalism crowd: We have reached the era where American students should graduate from high school fluent in Spanish, French and perhaps at least a third foreign language. Western European students do it. A group of [See Kane, 4b] German exchange students took some classes at Anne Arundel County's North County High School in October. One thing Sun reporter Consella Lee learned was that the German students were all fluent in English and were required to take French, Latin and a third modern foreign language.

Mind you, German students are ahead of their American counterparts in math and science. It's clear they're ahead in languages as well. America's anti-multiculturalism yahoos look at this revolting development and see no imperative for American students to get on the ball in math, science and foreign languages. Noooo. Instead, these linguo-phobes insist that we pass legislation making English - God's native language, to zTC these Philistines - the official language.

Okey-dokey. Let's do that. Let's make English America's official language. Then let's pump the bucks into our educational system that will make our students proficient, if not fluent, in French and Spanish by the time they graduate from high school. Part of that money can go to publish a series of books along the lines of "The First Day of School."

Already a group of high school sophomores and juniors has seen the advantages of learning a foreign language, simply by participating in this innovative and creative program involving writing a book in Spanish. Even students who were weak in Spanish, Shields said, benefited from the experience. The big brains who hold political office should listen to these young folks tell of the other advantages.

Khalilah Creek, on how the book will help with that multicultural thing: "Everybody has misinterpretations about different people.

We're trying to ease people's tensions and expose people to different cultures."

Candice Hopkins, on the reactions of parents and relatives: "My parents and aunts didn't believe we were really [writing the book] until I brought home the actual script." Candice and the other students agreed that their parents were thrilled about the book project.

Sean Dorsey, on the effect his part in the project will have on him: "I'll be proud to see my name on a finished product."

Rodney Kitchen, on the same subject but speaking for the entire class: "We're going to feel proud because it's something we did as a group."

The major hurdle Shields and his students must overcome is money: It'll cost more than $16,000 to produce only a paltry 1,000 copies of the book, which tells the story of how five students react to going to school for the first time. One student is from America, one is from Ethiopia, one is from China, another from Mexico and one from India.

But somewhere out there someone has the dough to get this book published in the numbers it should be. (On Monday night, City's alumni association agreed to do just that.)

"We need to teach children language at a younger age," Shields said. And we need to teach them language in new and creative ways. All the students agreed that working on the book project got them actively involved in the Spanish class and enthusiastic about learning. Most said they will probably continue taking Spanish when they go to college.

They should be commended. They may have indeed taught a valuable lesson to the linguo-phobes pushing to have English declared the nation's official language: Don't fear a foreign language. Learn it.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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