Today Eco-Thrifty Baby started at kohanga reo – Maori immersion preschool. This probably isn’t a choice most people like us would make. And by “like us”, I mean non-maori. So why are we going this route? Why not enroll in a private daycare facility or in-home child care provider, like most of our (white) friends are doing? The answer is a combination of factors.
First- we know our weaknesses. We have been home-schooling our way through the first 18 months of ETB’s life. And so far we are doing a pretty damn good job of it. She experiences a wide variety of activities, is outdoor tons, and hears two languages spoken daily. But, there is a huge part of her culture, her background, that we can’t teach her about. Verti was born in NZ. She whakapapa’s to Castlecliff, Whanganui… more specifically to our living room. And that means that it is our responsibility to teach her about the people, the culture, and the language of her home country. Um yeah. We don’t really know much about that, so better to hand it over to the experts.
Also, we are really aware that ETB was born into a position of power simply based on her skin colour, the education level of her parents, her relative wealth, and the language she speaks. It is really easy to take those things for granted, especially if you grow up surrounded by others who look, speak, and act just like you. We want ETB to grow up with an awareness that most people in the world don’t look and sound like her. We want her to know what it is like to be “the other” and therefor have a deeper empathy for those who find themselves in the minority.
Plus, immersion education is amazing. It will like triple the size of ETB’s brain. Well, maybe not triple, but definitely double. OK, maybe it will just improve her reading comprehension, ability to learn additional languages later in life, and even facilitate the learning of mathematical operations. But that’s pretty awesome. Even more awesome is that because of the generous social welfare system in our bi-cultural nation, this immersion education is nearly free for us. That’s right, nearly free.
Also, kohanga will be a learning journey for all of us. What an amazing opportunity for us as parents to role-model a love of learning, the humility of trying something new, and the hard work that goes into improving. What a great chance to empower our toddler in the role of teacher as she picks up new words and phrases that we don’t know.
Finally, this kohanga is part of our community. It is walking distance from our house (although biking is a lot easier with a toddler), which means that many of ETB’s classmates will live nearby. The friendly face that greets us every day at the front door is Ma, the matriarch of our softball family, and ETB’s softball “cousins” go to the attached immersion primary school. Our neighbours, and close friends, have enrolled two of their children in the kohanga as well. By joining kohanga, all of these people, our community, will support us in ETB’s schooling. And in return the resources, time, money, and energy, we put into her schooling, will stay here in our community.
So even if, in the end, this is just a drop in the bucket, here’s hoping that our decision will be one step of many in raising a culturally aware and globally responsible child. In the least, we will get to enjoy a few hangi and ETB will finally get to make use of the pukana eyes she’s had since birth.