Waunakee Parents in ‘an Uproar’ Over Teaching Social Studies in Spanish

Gena Kittner, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison), February 8, 2009

Being taught about famous people and events in Wisconsin history in Spanish is not how some Waunakee parents want their fourth-graders learning social studies at school.

“We as parents have been in such an uproar over this,” said Keith Wilke about the district’s elementary language program in which students learn Spanish by having the language integrated into social studies lessons for 30 minutes three days a week in first through fourth grades. “They’re force-fed Spanish.”

This is the third year for the program, which has added one grade a year since 2006 and is designed to continue until fifth grade.

“A fair amount of (social studies instruction) has been in Spanish,” said Wilke, who has a daughter in fourth grade. “The kids are to the point where they don’t understand it.”

Concerns over teaching more complex topics in Spanish isn’t a surprise to district leaders and a meeting Thursday has been set to address those issues.

“We realized the area that we were going to have the most concern . . . was the fourth grade,” said Randy Guttenberg, district superintendent, who also said that administrators have monitored the fourth-grade program all year. “The content in social studies becomes more complex at that point.”

Topics covered during social studies in the younger grades, such as community and family structure, fit well with learning a language, he said.

But once students start tackling more specialized topics such as Wisconsin history–including information about landforms–adding a foreign language to the mix can make learning more challenging.

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Magnes [Jean Magnes, mother of two children in the district] said because of how the subject has been taught, students aren’t learning Spanish or history.

“They don’t enjoy (Spanish), don’t speak it,” she said.

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