(I realized I wrote “third conditional” instead of “second conditional” as the title – stupid mistake, sorry)
“What would you do if won the lottery?”
At some point or another, most of us has taught the third conditional. And most of us have probably asked this question. What are students’ answers? A house? A car? Travel?
Yes, I’d do all of those. And then I’d build a school. Two, actually.
Why isn’t every school in America a bilingual school? With all the cognitive, cultural, social, and economic benefits that come from bilingualism, why hasn’t it been embraced here? Does no one find it ironic that a land originally populated by a spectrum of indigenous languages, and then filled with a mix of European immigrants turned out to be vehemently monolingual?
I hold this naïve belief that if everyone knew another language, this world would be a better place. Can you imagine the problems that can be solved, the stories that could be told, and the joy that could be shared if bridging the linguistic divide was a given? Imagine if learning more about our brothers and sisters who legally or illegally enter the country took no more effort than opening our mouths? Would it change the world? I don’t know. It hasn’t been tried.
(I’m aware that there are plenty of multilingual countries, and not all of them are nice, but, like I said, it’s my deeply seated naïve view).
During one of my graduate school classes, we read an article about something called the Schola Europaea, (the European School). Learning about this school, the Hogwart’s of language education, totally blew my mind and changed my view of education completely.
The Schola Europaea is a network of schools in Europe (attended by the children of European diplomats) where, from the primary years, students study both their native language and a second one. Starting in middle school, students add a second foreign language. Starting in high school, students add a third foreign language. So, by the time they are in high school, they are speaking FOUR languages. And they are not just studying these languages as subjects in themselves. They do take language classes, but they also take their subjects in these languages, creating what must be a very complexly balanced two-, three- or four-way multilingual education program.
Can you imagine a school where you can potentially graduate as a polyglot? Can you imagine the advantages you would have basically graduating with linguistic superpowers?
When I learned about this school system, pangs of jealousy rang through me. First, I thought, “Why is this open only to the elite?” And then I thought, “Why doesn’t America have something like this?”
You either have to be in the military, be Mormon, or go to Middlebury College to get such a quality language education. I think that’s ridiculous.
So, if I won the lottery, I would build two schools. I would study the Schola Europaea, work with bilingual educators, higher native and non-native speakers and create a school complex (K-12) that taught no less than four languages. I’d put my school in a place like Silicon Valley and my tuition would be high, as high as any other elite private school. It would be high because every cent from this school would go to fund a similar school in a poor urban area like Chicago, Detroit, New York or Ferguson where tuition (and materials and food) would be free. Because everyone deserves a chance to learn another language, not just the one percent.
Why stop there? We know languages are important, and so are the other subjects. Our education model is clearly failing nationwide. Our attempts to score as well as China or Korea have made us fixated on tests and big data. Meanwhile Finland still enjoys status as the best school model the world has to offer. Why we are not even attempting to adapt this model is beyond me. Any school I would start would definitely draw from Finland (which already offers multilingual education) as a starting point.
So, this is what I would do if I won the lottery. This is what I would like to contribute to as a language educator. This is what I would focus on for my PhD. This is the kind of legacy I would try to leave.
(I was inspired to write this post after reading about Exploding Kittens, a card game that has already surpassed $4,000,000 in funding on Kickstarter. People will pay $55,000 for a potato salad, or $4,000,000 for a card game, but what about projects and campaigns that actually make lives better, or attempt to change the world? How many of those flounder while the decadence of the web turns a blind eye; while the collective stupidity of humanity struggles to find the time or spare change for them? It seems that the herd mentality is not only dangerous but wasteful.)