I made a choice to abandon learning Vietnamese as a kid. Part of it was me being lazy. I didn't want to spend Saturdays inside another school. Three hours learning about the Vietnamese alphabet can seem like prison when you're six or if you're 12. But another part of it was me wanting to fit in. To stay at home. To watch weekend morning cartoons. To have stuff to talk about during recess come Monday. I made a choice to turn my back on part of my identity. In return, I got to fit in within a multi-ethnic schoolyard in a suburban Ontario neighbourhood circa 1995. Today, that decision would make a majority of Canadians pretty happy.
The last time the Canadian Forces made a huge effort to integrate a minority, there were serious concerns. There was a demographic forming 28 per cent of the Canadian population, which was said not to fit into the traditional military mould. They were seen as too "different", too "rebellious", too contrary to ever enter the fold of the military elite. They were French-Canadians.
The mere fact that the media has zeroed in on Tagalog as the fastest growing immigrant language, and the public's surprise of this so-called linguistic phenomenon, is telling of the social insignificance of Canada's third largest ethnic group. Sure, Filipinos are common props in fast-food restaurants, hotels and homes, but their lack of political and economic weight renders them invisible despite their large presence and 24/7 work cycles.
The potential economic benefit of trained mathematicians and scientists may be obvious to policy makers, and as scientists we can appreciate this. It can be difficult to envision how a third grader's piano lessons will lead to future economic gains; however, the hidden benefits of language and music training on cognitive health and brain function should not be overlooked. It's time to put what's "extra" back into the curriculum and embrace arts programming in schools as an essential part of building and maintaining cognitive health both in the present and into the future.