Why Not Celebrate Heritage?
Second Language Learning Connects Us to Our Past
World language teaching was criminalized in Nebraska in 1919 as a response to World War I. One country schoolteacher went so far as to tie a naughty Swedish-speaking boy to his chair until he spoke English. Newspaper articles recorded that German speakers were tarred and feathered.
With this kind of past, it is difficult to think that one might be able to appeal to language as a heritage skill. However, genetic kit testing companies are reporting record sales of $99 million dollars this year. Babel Magazine noted that Americans cited the importance of learning their heritage language.
Wherever the district and whatever the language, creatively think of a heritage connection. Read Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark to learn about Nebraska’s Mexican Town. Research Dawes County to find the site of the work camp where 3000 German prisoners-of-war were held in 1943. Review that La Louisiane was a French territory until sold in 1803 and that long after French trappers settled throughout Nebraska. While many Chinese arrived to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad, Omaha’s experience with Chinese shows a variety of Chinese professionals including nationally famous doctors, restaurateurs, and religious leaders.
Heritage does not have to be constrained to the ancestry of the students in your classroom. It can be viewed as a communal gift. By doing so, it allows students to find identity through commonalities and to build a stronger sense of community through a shared past and language.