Let's look at some figures from Virginia. The most recent LEP (Limited English Proficient) data includes this information:
- Since 1996, the number of LEP students in Fairfax County alone (outside D.C.) has TRIPLED from 10,000 to 30,000 students.
- In the 05-06 academic year, the number of LEP students enrolled in Virginia public schools was 78,216. This year (06-07), the number of enrolled LEP students is 86,392.
When I graduated from high school there were fewer than 10 African-American students in my class of 375, and probably fewer Asian-American. Were it not for my 9th grade social studies instructor, I never would have studied the countries of Asia and Africa. I exchanged letters with a Japanese penpal (the old fashioned kind you know, on very thin paper with cool air-mail stamps and envelopes), learned about making and flying kites, counted in Swahili, and did so many other cool things that I can attribute my love of learning about other countries, cultures and people to Mr. Lind and this class. All positive notes aside, I had to wait until high school to learn these things, and if I were from another race or culture, I would have spent my entire school career until this point reading and learning only about white Americans. How do we ever teach children to develop cross-cultural understanding if we don't start when they are very young? As I said, I grew up in different times, and boy, have times changed.
One of my favorite books to use for studying topics in science and social studies related to the world population is If the World Were a Village by David Smith. Since 6.3 billion is a difficult number to understand, the author scales important world statistics down to a village of 100. Using this smaller number allows us to see how the world's peoples, religions, and resources are then distributed. Here are some things students learn:
- If the whole world were a village of 100 people, 61 would come from Asia, 13 from Africa, 12 from Europe, 8 from South America, Central America (including Mexico) and the Caribbean, 5 from Canada and the United States, and 1 from Oceania (an area that includes Australia, New Zealand and the islands in the south, west, and central Pacific.
- In the global village there are almost 6000 languages, but more than half of the people speak these 8 languages - 22 speak a Chinese dialect (of these people, 18 speak the Mandarin dialect), 9 speak English, 8 speak Hindi, 7 speak Spanish, 4 speak Arabic, 4 speak Bengali, 3 speak Portuguese, and 3 speak Russian.
- In the village of 100 people, 32 are Christians, 19 are Muslims, 13 are Hindus, 12 practice shamanism, animism and other folk religions, 6 are Buddhists, 2 belong to other global religions (such as Baha’i faith, Confucianism, Shintoism, Sikhism or Jainism, 1 is Jewish, and 15 are non-religious.
I am inarticulate when it comes to discussing these matters, so I'll let someone far more talented explain why this is so important. Thank you, Grace Lin, for saying this so eloquently. Please read Why Couldn't Snow White Be Chinese? for a strong argument for helping children from all walks of life find themselves in books.