When a reporter from The New York Times wrote about the growing popularity of language immersion schools, particularly in the elementary grades, of course he’d come to Louisiana.
In our state, where the Acadians were exiled by Britain centuries ago, the French language was almost snuffed out by official displeasure for years, within living memory.
But Louisiana is now a model, as French immersion schools helped lead a trend toward language-focused education.
In Mamou, the Times profiled a Parisenne elementary teacher helping her students to learn, both in French and in English. Many students — even teachers and principals — are no longer proficient in the language that their grandparents spoke in Acadiana.
While it is important that the state continue to back CODOFIL, the group supporting French education, it is also worthy of note that the government of Spain has promoted teachers coming to Louisiana to encourage speaking of Spanish, too.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser recently welcomed on behalf of the state a new group of teachers from countries speaking French and Spanish who arrived to provide a better education for Louisiana students.
Both languages were part of Louisiana’s heritage, although the name of the state derives from the French monarchs during the age of European exploration here. But Louisiana was also a Spanish possession for many years and, as with the Cabildo at the center of the French Quarter, our culture is a legacy embracing both.
However, it’s also important to note that immigration once again is changing America and Louisiana. In the state’s largest public school system, Jefferson Parish, there are students who come from families speaking literally dozens of different languages. Whether Spanish or Urdu or Romanian, those are families that have a legacy to pass on to their children. America's public schools should encourage literacy in both languages, in English and whatever is ordinarily spoken at home.
State Education Superintendent John White noted recently that while new learners of English are in many parishes, they are more numerous in southeastern Louisiana.
White said public schools’ goal should be for students to graduate proficient in both their native languages and English.
We agree. It’s a cliché, but true: The globe is an evermore connected place. Louisiana students need language proficiency more than ever.
The Times article about Mamou closed with students’ reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, in French. What better example can there be of Louisiana’s unique place in this country?