I’ve almost begun this post as most of my Chinese students back then in China began most of their (almost always very optimistic) papers: “In our highly developed, modern society …” But before I completely change my mind, let me begin by saying that in our societies in Europe, it’s more important than before that our children appreciate variety in the world, learn to understand and live alongside various other cultures than their own immediate background. When knives and guns are aimed from left and right at people that others think are ‘different’, meaning ‘strange’, ‘dangerous’, ‘threatening’ and this feeling is sometimes enhanced by the reality that others may actually be that, what can we do? When we think of ‘us’ v. ‘others’, let’s not forget that in such equations, we are ‘others’ to them just like that. And when we think that ‘others’ are dangerous, it means we are dangerous too and then how can we stay alive?
In today’s Europe this question is debated all over. What I was surprised to hear a few month back was that the largest country of the EU, which also has been having probably the largest imported work force, from Turkey, for that matter, has always forgotten about language teaching to those working for them. Thanks to improved understanding and policy, Germany may soon start teaching their language to those who have come and worked in Germany.
Great move. Hopefully not too late. But here in the Netherlands, such policies have long been in place and contributed to the peaceful living together of millions of people from all over the world, lots of whom are not only from former colonies, and lots of whom are muslims, or at least non-Christians.
I’ve already praised the language teaching system that allows immigrating adults to learn Dutch almost free of charge, or at least very cheaply and efficiently. Now I’ve just witnessed workings of a perhaps even more important ground for future peace: a primary school. The bigger kid of the Chinese partner to this post has already been going to school for a year. I’ve often seen kids coming or going to that school and already known that it lies in a ‘mixed nationality’ area of town. This means that probably all nationalities are represented at school, form Moroccans and Turks through Chinese, Indonesians, Thai, Surinamese and Syrians to Somalis and other black Africans. These can be very well seen in the area, but let’s add a probably huge number of Polish and some Hungarian people and we have a real cauldron.
So far I’ve found kids after school very interesting because most of them are so little that they have to be picked up by parents at the end of the day. Then I can see they talk their own languages to their parents but happily talk Dutch to all their friends to say good-bye. Nice. And of course the language of instruction inside is Dutch. The common denominator is important for understanding the society around us and to integrate into it.
Now, the school finds the original cultures of their kinds also important. We can’t deny that these exist: those parents (or their parents earlier) have come from somewhere else and it’s just natural that mother speaks her mother tongue to her children. The great thing is that the school understands the values embedded in such diversity. Instead of pointing at each others with grins, they are given the opportunity to first take everything around them at face value and accept it – no kid even realizes that some of them have very dark skins, others very white, yet again others different eyes or something – and then at the end of the school year, the school organizes a little festival to bring out the values inherent in the population of the school. This is what I’m going to show you parts below.
First, it was interesting to hear that the leader of the event found it important to wear a clothes and a piece of jewellery from Somalia. And to tell the kids about it too, and proudly at that.
As kids start going to school at age 4 in the Netherlands, no wonder the whole things was sometimes quite noisy, yet, it was apparently to all kids’ interests and they took part in chorus singing with obvious enthusiasm.
At the beginning there was Turkish dancing for everybody’s delight – even some teachers joined towards the end.
Most of the event contained singing and as parents were also invited not only to attend but also to take part, the co-writer of this blog decided to contribute as well.
The following are the recordings I took of her performing two Chinese songs. Her first performance started with inviting kids to help her play out the scene in the lullaby, thereby making the foreign text somewhat understandable to the very young audience. For those who find the Dutch introduction too long, the song starts at 5′ into the video. What I find important here is the children’s enthusiasm to join the ranks on the stage.
With the next song, teachers were asked to participate, again to great cheers. Children of all nationalities were chanting their favourite teacher’s names to make them join a song they knew they would not understand. Here the song starts rolling at 4′ into the recording.
There was also a very nice, colourful act with pairs of little ones parading clothes worn in their (or rather, their parents’) country of origin, again to great cheering from the audience.
The even practically closed with a Dutch song. The kids’ performance itself was not of the most outstanding quality but they had all volunteered in the first place, like the others, but what is here very important is that this is a Dutch song in front of a very multi-cultural audience, of which the most enthusiastic co-singers were ….
I hope my dear visitor also enjoyed the above and understands what I mean without me going on ranting about it. I just wish the world had a lot more similar institutions, events and joy about our differences and we can see more and proud wearers of such fabulous clothes and singers of such enchanting songs like on that day.
by Z.J.S. and P.S.