The New York Times headline read: "Brooklyn Principal Apologizes for Remark Deemed Offensive." Donna Taylor, the principal of Public Intermediate School 686 said, "if you don't speak Spanish, you're going to clean your own house." The statement was made in response to a parent's inquiry regarding a foreign language program during the school's open house.
Nothing "deemed" about it, her remark is offensive.
While Taylor has apologized and said that her words were "misunderstood," I cannot help but wonder how her words can be taken out of context. The message was clear: The only purpose to learning Spanish as a second language is to communicate with the help. Her comment discredits every single Spanish-speaking person. It implies that people who speak Spanish will only be in roles that are subservient to English-speakers — not exactly the message a public school principal should relay to students or parents, and certainly not the reason to incorporate Spanish into the curriculum.
The message was clear: The only purpose to learning Spanish as a second language is to communicate with the help. Her comment discredits every single Spanish-speaking person. It implies that people who speak Spanish will only be in roles that are subservient to English-speakers.
My parents are fluent in both English and Spanish, but English was the only language spoken to me as a child. Being monolingual, especially in a city like New York, often puts me at a disadvantage. As a mom who writes about raising an autistic child, I've had to turn down opportunities to share my story because I do not speak Spanish. And I wish it had been offered in the middle school years while I was still in school.
Speaking a second language is an advantage; it makes you a desirable asset to a company. If you don't speak Spanish, you may not be able to advance in your career. That's what Donna Taylor should have told parents during the school's open house.
I'm not as shocked by Taylor's words as I am disappointed. That mindset has no place in any school – let alone a New York City public school, where the student population is quite diverse.
Born and raised in New York, I was a public school student most of my academic life. I remember what Manhattan and the outer boroughs looked like before gentrification. But even within the gentrified areas of New York City, there are remnants of what the city is most famously known for: A community of culture and diversity. They are things that need to be celebrated in our schools.
Being exposed to different cultures and languages fosters acceptance and understanding.It helps broaden minds and inspires creativity and critical thinking.
The students at P.S. 686 live in a city that flourishes in language, culture and diversity; most parents want their children to have that exposure. Being exposed to different cultures and languages fosters acceptance and understanding. It helps broaden minds and inspires creativity and critical thinking. Instead of embracing New York's diversity, Donna Taylor ridiculed and diminished it.
Despite Taylor's offensive remark, something positive came out of it. It is the parents that attended the open house that complained about Taylor to the Department of Education. They recognized the statement for what it was and understand the real value in learning a second language. By speaking out against stereotypes and racism, they are ensuring that public school kids get the most out of what New York's diverse landscape has to offer – in every language possible.