Oren Miller insists on teaching his kids Hebrew so they’ll know there are other cultures in the world
Well, first of all, if you teach your kids a language that might help them in their careers, that’s an easy one. You teach your kids another language to give them more opportunities in life. But what about my kids? I speak to them in Hebrew, so unless they grow up to be the Ambassadors to Israel (or double agent international spies like their dad), knowing how to speak Hebrew will do nothing for them.
So why am I harassing them with Hebrew? They’re obviously more comfortable speaking English, so why do I insist? Why not just speak English and stop confusing these poor kids?
But then I remember. When you grow up in a small country like Israel, where people speak in a language that’s different from the language of universal popular culture, you become aware of living in a small part of a big world. As kids, we grew up watching movies with subtitles, and for us, there were no such things as foreign movies, because most movies were foreign.
Arguably, when you grow up thinking you’re right at the center of civilization, you may end up with a more ethnocentric world view. Sure, this is a generalization that may depend on education and on economic/social status, but still, and I’m saying this with zero judgement, it makes sense that people who live in a place they consider a cultural center would be less interested in other cultures.
That’s why I insist. Beyond learning a second language to advance their careers, and even beyond my need for my kids to know an important part of their father’s heritage, I need them to know, especially because they do live in the popular cultural center of the world, that there are other cultures, and that other cultures are just as worthy.
I’m very interested in politics, and I wish I could vote, but naturalized Americans can’t keep their other citizenships, and I’m not ready to let go of the “Citizen of the World” identity I had created for myself in my less-cynical early 20s. And I’m not ready for my kids to do the same.
Teaching my kids a second language may or may not help their careers, but more importantly, and that’s my early-20s-self talking again (because it never really left–it’s just well-hidden by defense mechanisms), raising bilingual kids may make it a better society. I like to imagine I’m thinking globally and acting locally, one Hebrew word at a time.
Israel has many problems, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely wouldn’t call it a utopia of universal empathy, but at least we grew up knowing we were part of something bigger, and I want my kids to know that too.
Growing up in Israel, Big Blue Marble, from PBS, was my favorite show. It showed kids and teens from all over the world, playing, dancing, and being kids. Here’s the opening. If you’re as old as I am, as soon as you hear this music, you’ll be five years old again, sitting on the couch, dreaming about the big world out there.
We forget that. We grow old and cynical, and we forget our place in the world. And that’s why I raise bilingual kids. Because I still believe in the big blue marble.
—first appeared at Blogger and a Father
—photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr