Monday, September 20, 2010

Passin' By

There is a wonderful scene in Harper Lee's monumental novel To Kill A Mockingbird where the all white jury has returned an unjust verdict against Tom Robinson. Atticus begins to wearily walk out of the courthouse. Jem, Dill, and Scout are in the balcony with the black folks of the town.

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.
“Miss Jean Louise?”
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylors’s:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

During the first weeks of school, Scout's story came back to me as I was benchmarking the reading levels of our 1st and 2nd Grade students. One of our 1st Graders named M sat down and looked across at me with clear, brown eyes. She is one of our many English as a second language students. Her parents speak only Spanish in the home. Canola and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco have written brilliantly and eloquently about children like her in their book Learning A New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society where they remind us how valuable and vulnerable our immigrant students are in the first years they are in America. M is indeed learning a new land.

"M, do you speak Spanish at home? Do your Mommy and Daddy speak Spanish at home?


"And you speak English at school."

"Yes, I'm bilingual!"

"You are bilingual. You have to be so smart to be able to speak two languages and to help your Mommy and Daddy understand your teachers."

You do have to be smart to live in one land and learn another.  After M finished her benchmark test, after she translated my English into Spanish and the Spanish back into English for me, and stood up and walked with me to her classroom, I felt like saying, "Teachers and administrators, stand up.  M's passin'."

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