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The Importance of Bilingual Education

The controversial practice of bilingual education has been under fire the last few years from opposition such as “English First,” assimilation activists, and a handful of angry Latino parents. The main argument delivered by these groups is that bilingual education has failed, and the complaints are being ignored and overlooked by school officials. These bilingual, bright children are learning basic skills in their native language before adding English. But for many opponents, that transition just isn’t fast enough.

It is my intent to prove that organizations such as “English First” and “U.S. English” are no more than misguided bigots who equate multiculturalism with ethnic separatism and fear that bilingual education discourages assimilation. Alleys of bilingual education say that the opposing suppositions have been proven to be faulty assumptions and hearsay. This hearsay is based on the confusion that was inflicted upon the public in order to create opposition.

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One impediment is that this type of education handicaps children’s cognitive growth due to the confusion of multiple languages. (Crawford-pg.2) This can’t be true because it has been proven time after time that “well-developed” native language cognitive skills pave the path for academic growth and can be used as a very valuable asset. (Crawford-pg.4)

Another opposing figure is the handful of Latino parents who feel strongly about their children coming out of public education with equal opportunities of transferring, acceptance, and/or scholarships. (Rita Montero-PBS) This is a justifiable expectation for public schools and as Ruben Navarette, Jr states, “Defenders of bilingual education contend that parents are uninformed, misguided, and told that schools know how best to educate their children.” This claim is very serious and if it is misinterpreted or misunderstood by any parent it can influence important decision-making insinuated by opposing figures in order to annihilate an expensive program.

A major argument of anti-bilingual activists is that many Latino parents in LA were outraged with the program in their public schools and insisted on the removal of their children from bilingual ed. classes. (“Double Talk”-Montero) This is a difficult point to counter, yet James Lyons of the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) states it clearly:

“We have poor schools throughout this country in virtually every state of the union. Bilingual education [is a] part of poor schools in some places; in other places, they’re allowing children to achieve everything that they need to achieve and to excel, go on to college.

Bilingual education has made it possible for children to have continuous development in their native language, while they’re in the process of learning English, something that doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s made it possible for children to learn Math and Science at a rate equal to English-speaking children while they’re in the process of acquiring English.” (Pg.5,8)

Today it seems that in contemporary society we only hear about the failure of programs instead of the successful accomplishes obtained by so many.

I think that the major concern of the opposition is that bilingualism “Threatens to sap our sense of national identity and divide us along ethnic lines.” (Crawford-pg1) In other words, it threatens the advancement of assimilation. In the essay “Aria” written by Richard Rodriguez, bilingual ed. actually helps positive assimilation happen faster, therefore reducing separatism while creating fundamental family preservation of culture and heritage.

With the experience my mother has had with ELL (English Language Learners) children as a teacher in a predominantly Hispanic school district, I have come to the conclusion that both languages should be applied together to ease the transition between the dominant language and the new language. These children are often being held back grades because they do not develop a concrete understanding of academic English as well as native speakers. I think the reason for this is due to expectations of English-speaking scholars putting too much pressure on these young children to learn a foreign language in a short amount of time or sometimes without the aid of the language they are already familiar with.

I think that during the first few crucial years of schooling, these gifted children should be allowed to be educated in their dominant language with ease and familiarity in order to achieve sufficient cognitive skills. It may only take a few months to a year to acquire a “social” language or “playground” language as my mother relates, but it takes three to seven years to acquire the “academic” language skills needed to learn the complex subject matter. Language for expression of concepts in major subject areas takes much longer to acquire than social informal language for all students let alone children who speak a different language.

In conclusion to the topic of bilingual education, I believe that the question is not what program is best for the child, but what in general is best for the development of the child. More power should be returned to the students’ parents and teachers which would enable them to make the correct decisions for individual English language learners. Bilingual ed. boosts efficiency and productivity in the case of many fresh English learners. Productive assimilation is boosted by bilingual education which helps the people of America become one. It weakens ignorance which can separate cultures and label someone as different from all the rest. It is important for society to lose its grasp on separatism and racism which have created hatred, hostility, violence, and terrorism all around the world. Do we want new generations brought up as bigots and racists due to the lack of unity of all races? As far as I’m concerned, a second language will not only broaden individual viewpoints and literacy skills, but also strengthen chances of acceptance down the road at Universities where a bilingual, bicultural person is viewed as a positive addition to the University culture. Obviously bilingual ed. isn’t a failure in all schools or it would have surely been dropped a long time ago. My question is whether or not blame should be placed on bilingual ed. or should it be placed on the bureaucracies that have already given up on the program and its related costs.

Works Cited

Crawford, James. “Hold Your Tongue.” The Latino Condition: A Critical Reader. Ed. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Crawford, James. “Bilingual Education.” http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/jwcrawford/biling.htm, 1998. 24 april 2000.

“Double Talk.” The Newshour. Mod. Betty Ann Bowser. PBS. 21 Sep 1997. Transcript.

Navarrette, Ruben, Jr. “A bilingual Education Initiative as a Prop. 187 in Disguise?” Growing Up Latino, Memoirs and Stories. Ed. Harold Augenbraum and Ilan Stevans. Boste, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.