Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

A Menominee Student’s School Experience

By Alan J. Caldwell (Awaesaeh Enaniew) - 02.15.2012

In Shawano County, Wisconsin a 7th grader was punished for speaking her native language at school.

The Sacred Heart Catholic School student, 12-year-old Miranda Washinawatok, was not allowed to play in a basketball game as punishment for speaking the Menominee language in class to a classmate.

When the story first broke my first thought was, “Here’s a first year or new teacher who over reacted, did not attempt to ask the student what she was saying, nor asked any questions about the
language that was being spoken, and then moved to punish the child because she spoke differently, with the student doing no more than using a language she learned from her parents and grandmother, who also happens to be one of our original Menominee language instructors.”

I thought, “Would the teacher have done this if the girl was speaking French or Spanish or Hmong –we have families in Shawano who speak these languages– or because it was something she did not
understand and made no attempt to find out”.

Then the school administrator claims in his apology and statements to the press that he suspended the Menominee girl from her basketball game that evening for having an “attitude,…”

Yet, he also did not notify the girl’s mother or family of his action.

He later claims that his action was due to miscommunication and a lack of knowing the facts surrounding the classroom incident and the teacher’s actions.

Richie Plass is working with the family and has offered to assist the school with setting up some cultural programs and sensitivity training for school staff.

I have told him I would be willing to assist in any way that I can.

12 Responses so far

That’s one of the more outrageous – and ironic – stories I’ve read about oppressing diversity in education.

I mean, aren’t language arts – and foreign language instruction – usually a part of classroom instruction? Good for the student for attempting to keep her culture and language alive – especially since her language was here BEFORE English…

Richard Alpert, diversity calendar publisher

Unfortunately, this is not that uncommon. I worked for a social service organization that, at one time, was having a serious discussion about whether or not it was appropriate for young people in their programs to be allowed to speak to each other in their mother tongue. My experience is that folks in positions of authority, if they are also largely members of mainstream culture, do not necessarily feel they have the need to understand such issues.

This story brings back issues from my childhood, where kids from the rez were just coming out from under the forced boarding school days. Makes me want to cry 🙁

FYI, one good resource for schools is Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It is so unfortunate that there are people living in the U.S. that still think that diversity is a bad thing. We should all embrace diversity and in turn take pride in the fact that we are a welcoming society! We would also be wise to learn from other cultures instead of punishing those who are different.

I agree that this happens all the time, in school situations especially. I think that people are naturally insecure and although the student was speaking to another student, the teacher not understanding the language most likely assumed that she said something inappropriate. The teacher probably thought this because instead of speaking in the language that the rest of the class could understand she choose her native language. Do I believe that this justifies the teachers and principles behavior? No. The teacher should have clarified with the student what she said, then based on the students response, decided how to react.

I am not shocked that this happened:/ however it doesn’t change the fact that it upsets me. This story reminds me of several Hispanic people I work with that sometimes interchange their native tongue in with english and it is out of habit of speaking their language in their homes. Who knows if this girl was doing it for bad reasons and it was wrong of the teacher to assume so. It could have just been an accident or maybe she was unsure of how to say or the correct grammer to use in english. I feel like the teacher should have pulled the girl aside and talked with her in a different way. I also feel that the girl shouldn’t have been punished for talking in her native tongue, that’s part of her culture, and she shouldn’t be punished for it. We are becoming more diverse every day, and it is a beautiful thing. People need to learn to accept it and be happy about it!

It is absurd that a teacher would have taken this to the principal before clarifying exactly what the child had said. It is doubly absurd that a principal would have handed down punishment without knowing himself what was going on. I cannot even fathom what would have prompted the administration to have acted as they did without looping the parents in on the situation. To cover themselves by stating the child had an “attitude” seems pretty flimsy at best. While it makes sense that the teacher may have felt the child was talking about her or that something inappropriate may have been said, this only shows the need for the teacher to further investigate and determine if there was an issue to begin with.

So what were the actual facts and context of this situation. Does anyone know, or is every one running on assumptions here? Did the girl innocently say something in her native tounge or was she saying something that would’ve gotten any kid in trouble no matter what language was being used. Was she in English class at the time, where one would be expected to speak English? I’m just curious, since there’s a multitude of other scenarious that I can come up with for what might be the full story.

I am completely appalled at this situation, especially at the fact that without verifying the facts that such a severe penalty, pulling the child from her sporting event. It seems to me this would have to violate some sort of policy. For all we know, the poor child could be asking where the bathroom was….. or even reporting some sort of mistreatment from another student and she was punished. What kind of idea does this give her about the systems here in America where she is punished for trying to express herself in the best way she knew how. So much for the right of free speech….

I also agree that the the teacher and principal did not handle the situation in a professional manner. It shocks me that they said she had an “attitude” when really they most likely were frustrated and did not want want to cooperate with her different cultural and language background. I think it is important that our schools participate in various culture appreciation workshops to make sure that we are sensitive to the needs of our students and gain a better understanding of their culture. It is vital that we take into consideration that our nation is made up of all kinds of kinds, meaning that in some way or another we are going to have to go through some sort of awareness or sensitivity training to ensure that we are being culturally competent. Teachers will better themselves if they not only teach their students but learn from their various cultures.

I found this post saddening as children should not be punished just because their teacher does not understand what they are saying. While the child may not have been justified in talking aloud during lecture or whatever the case may have been, speaking in one’s native language should not be an immediate cause for alarm.

See the following from
Society for the Scientific Study of Ethnic Minority Issues
Greetings relatives and friends, Here is the valentine with “I love you” in all the languages that were collected from various groups. The University of North Dakota Chapter of the Society of Indian Psychologists put the PowerPoint together. I sent it to Miranda’s mother this afternoon. Miranda is the seventh grader who was suspended from school for teaching another student how to say “I love you” in her native language. Jacque Gray, Ph.D. (Choctaw/Cherokee), Research Assistant Professor, Director, National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI), President, Society of Indian Psychologists, Chair of Psychologists in Indian Country (Division 18 of APA), Secretary, Division 35 Section 6 (Indigenous Women),Jacqueline.gray@med.und.edu

I think this story shows an example of a racist in some kind of way, and this is just ridiculous to punish a 12 year old child in this way just for speaking in a language not known to the instructor. In my opinion being a teacher needs skills of how to be a psychologist and have knowledge of how to talk to a child. Obviously this teacher did not fulfill the function and the child shouldn’t be punished in this type of rude way. School should give only a good example. That’s why we send our children there and definitely not to have them learn bad experience and racism.

Leave a comment