When I was a young girl, living in the Bronx, my parents faced a choice - should I be placed in my school's English only classes or should I be placed in their bilingual program? One quick tour of the classes at that time had convinced my mother that the bilingual classes were not the way to go. They were over crowded, rowdy and clearly were the classes that the problematic students were placed. No, my mother said, she's going to learn English and she is going to learn to speak it well. The idea had been that I would speak English at school and Spanish at home
But sadly that never really occurred.
Because while I did speak English at school, I also spoke it at home, with my friends, and to my parents - in particular, I spoke English to my mother so she could translate it to my father who only really spoke Spanish (the beginning of a very unhealthy triangulation in our home).
But what is a parent to do? Parents often face difficult choices when raising their children, struggling to make sure their children fit in while also wishing for their children to retain their own cultural identity.
But, apart from what parents should do, what should the state do? What are the best ways to help immigrant children function in a host country (or as in my own case, what would have been the best way for me, as a citizen, to function in my own country?). Should the state mandate language classes for immigrant children OR should the state institute bilingual, or even, trilingual classes for all? (Before you think that this is not possible - I would like to state that the mean number of languages that my students in Budapest speak is THREE - but that is a post for another day).
Should we aim to integrate these children - or are they better served in "catch-up" classes? And catch- up to what? to what norm? to who's standard?
Such are some of the questions surrounding the (mis)education of Roma children in Hungary. And I only learned about it because I decided to go for a walk on a rainy Sunday afternoon and walked right into a political protest outside of the Hungarian parliament. Although my Hungarian is quite basic (actually non-existent is more to the point) I was able to make out some key phrases - like antifascists and could also recognize the flag of Amnesty International (because it literally said Amnesty International), and with the help of google translate I quickly understood that this was a rally against the enforced segregation of Roma children in Hungary,.
As described in this article from Reuters
More than 2,000 Hungarians, including Roma families and civil groups, marched to parliament on Sunday to protest against the government’s refusal to pay compensation to Roma children who had been unlawfully segregated in a school in eastern Hungary.
Apparently, in the village of Gyongyospata (in Northern Hungary) there is an ongoing dispute on what should be done after the lower courts declared that the state should pay damages to the families of Roma children who were placed in segregated schools. For almost a decade this has been dragging on with PM Orban suggesting that the state should not pay damages but instead provide "customized education opportunities" instead (see here for further description of this proposal)
So what is the role of the state? what obligations does it have toward others? and more pertinently, what are the psychological consequences of pursuing polices that segregate and refusing to compensate when damage has been done?
Certainly, there is no shortage of psychological literature pointing to the harmful effects of segregation as the research by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark showed. In fact, it was their work that showed how racial segregation harmed the self-images of Black children and was formed the basis of decision to desegregate American schools (see here)
However, what I would argue, is that segregation does not only hurt immigrant children - but majority children as well. Because segregation prevents contact and limits exposure to others. Segregation also dehumanizes and this was a point I saw echoed in many of the signs at the protest. People also just seemed tired - like really fed up as evidenced by the signs I saw (Enough! Enough!)
Of most interest to me is that by the end of that Sunday approximately 500 Hungarian psychologists had signed a petition against this government policy.
See psychologists can have a role in shaping social policy.
Fulbright Scholar in Budapest, Hungary..
Friends .- this is NOT an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.