There is an article out today about an Native American, Amerind, American, Indian, Indian ( I am confused as to the current politically correct designation) who spoke to a friend in her native language in school and was punished for doing so by a classroom teacher. A teacher who may have been just following the rules but displaying little if any common sense. Of course we don’t know the history behind this teacher or student and will probably never find out what went before the punishment was handed down but it functions as a perfect example of why zero tolerance rules are not only thoughtless, marginally worthless and inefficient but at times damaging as well.
The issue of language proscription is particularly troubling for native Americans and other indigenous peoples as in almost all countries as history shows that in the past our and other governments many years ago attempted to forcefully nationalize indigenous societies in schools by attempting to eradicate their language and customs.
I will admit that It used to bother me when students spoke Spanish around me, over me and through me in my classroom. But I finally realized that it was a private conversation that I would not limit in English during down time and after all why was I listening anyway. I have learned over many years of middle school teaching that some of the most disturbing things you run into tend to come in confiscated notes or overheard conversations. Sometimes requiring action but other times simply altering your perceptions of the students in front of you, occasionally for the better but often for the worse.
It was fun however when you caught and understood enough of an ongoing Spanish conversation between students to make a salient comment on it and then watch their faces as the students looked at you very carefully, obviously wondering exactly how long you had been listening and exactly how much Spanish you really knew. (in my case not much) If you walk away quickly after your comment the students heads will get much closer together, the Spanish will get much faster, the sounds of the voices much quieter and corners of their eyes filled with pupils as they watch you move off.