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    Bilingual Education: The Emotional Debate

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    Heidi DarlingRyan WintersEnglish 10119 December, 2002Bilingual EducationThe debate over bilingual education is nothing if not emotional.

    Thetwo sides seem to be spurred on by political opinions from liberals andconservatives who want to further their own cause. In general terms, thatcause, in relation to bilingual education for liberals is that diverselanguages and customs enrich the U. S. cultural stew and should be allowedto flourish (Worsnap 6).

    Conservatives, on the other hand, believe thatthe mission of U. S. schools is to nurture a common language – English – anda common national identity (Worsnap 6). The issue over bilingual educationgoes back several decades, even a century, in America’s history. When thiscountry was founded, people came from around the globe to create a newplace to live in freedom and peace.

    So, from the very beginning of ournation’s inception, there has been a need to teach newcomers English. Atfirst this was accomplished by complete submersion. There were no”programs” set up by the government, only a strong desire by thoseimmigrants to become a part of their new country. Until the 1960’s,interest in bilingual education was limited.

    Then public and politicalinterest increased when thousands of Cuban refugees started pouring intoSouth Florida after Fidel Castro gained power in 1959 (Dunlap 8). At thattime, Dade County (Miami) wanted to help arriving children to adjust totheir new country, so in 1963 they became the first county to begin anexperimental bilingual education program in first to third grades at theirCoral Way Elementary School (Dunlap 8). Because this experiment was deemeda success after just a few years, widespread support for bilingualeducation helped advocates persuade lawmakers to fund bilingual programsduring congressional hearings in 1967; and theyDarling 2were successful when by President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the propositionin January 1968 (Dunlap 8).

    The bilingual education act, adopted as TitleIIV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), made availablefederal money for bilingual programs. Although the act did not requirelocal school districts to establish bilingual programs, it did encouragetheir development by offering grants. In 1974 the act was broadened andclarified the federal role in bilingual education, and for the first time,federal money was made available for training teachers and developingcurricula and instructional materials (Dunlap 9). “Bilingual education started out in 1968 as a modest $7. 5 millionpilot program to help (immigrant) children learn English.

    Today it’s a $5billion boondoggle including federal, state and local funds that actuallyprevents kids from acquiring the language that will determine theireconomic and social success as adults,” writes Rosalie Pesalino Porter,author of the 1990 book Forked Tongue: the Politics of Bilingual Educationand chairman of the Institute for Research in English Acquisition andDevelopment (READ) (qtd. in Worsnap 6). This opinion is shared by manyexperts in the field of bilingual education and also the side that I willdiscuss in depth in this paper. But first, what exactly is bilingualeducation and what different approaches are available to teach limitedEnglish proficient (LEP) students English?The definition of bilingual education is: instruction for those whodo not speak English, by teachers who use the students’ native language atleast part of the day. The term usually has meant teaching students to befluent in two languages (Worsnap 3).

    There are four basic alternatives forinstructing LEP children. The first of these is immersion or “sink orswim”. In this model, the LEP child is placed in a regular Englishclassroom with English monolingual children and given no more special helpthan any child with educational problems (Rossell 19). A second techniqueis English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, which consists ofregular classroom instruction for most of the day combined with a specialpull out program ofDarling 3English language instruction for one or two periods a day, or in somedistricts two or three periods per week, and participation in the regularclassroom for the rest of the time (Rossell 19). A third instructionaltechnique is structured immersion, where instruction is in the Englishlanguage in a self-contained classroom of LEP children.

    The English usedin these programs is always geared to the children’s language proficiencyat each stage so that it is comprehensible, and the student thus learns thesecond language (English) and subject matter content simultaneously(Rossell 19). The fourth instructional technique, transitional bilingualeducation (TBE), is when the student is taught to read and write in thenative tongue, with subject matter also taught in the native tongue. English is initially taught for only a small portion of the day. As thechild progresses in English, the amount of instructional time in the nativetongue is reduced and English increased, until the student is proficientenough in English to join the regular classroom. (Rossell 18) “For mostpeople learning a new language, progress depends on two factors -motivation and exposure to the new language, which means having theopportunity to understand it and use it for real purposes,” said PatriciaWhitelaw-Hill, an ESL teacher for many years and executive director of theREAD Institute in Washington, D. C.

    (89). To this end, it is my opinionthat bilingual education is a waste of government money because it does notexpose LEP students to enough English for them to become proficient in antimely manner and because bilingual education fosters a sense of separationin stead of unity among students which transfers into our country’s lack ofunity. To begin with, I am against any more government money being spent onbilingual education because the current methods being used are taking toomany years to teach LEP students English. In America today, Transitionalbilingual education (TBE) is the most common approach for teachingimmigrants English in our schools.

    “The majority of elementary schoolprograms have as their goal exiting a student after 3 years,” saysChristine Rossell, a professor ofDarling 4political science at Boston University and co-author of Bilingual EducationReform in Massachusetts. “But these programs also allow students to stayin the program longer than three years . . .

    Indeed, many children stay ina bilingual program throughout their elementary school career ” (19). According to Keith Baker, an independent social science consultant, “Onestudy using a nationally representative sample of over 300 programs ofLEP’s, found that depending on the type of program, the average length oftime that students were in a special program for LEP’s was 2. 6 to 3. 5years.

    This study also showed that students remained longer in programs asthe use of Spanish increased in their program ” (30). In addition, RosaliePorter states that, “it will not surprise anyone to learn that at allgrade levels students in ESL classrooms exited faster than those served inbilingual classrooms. ” She continues, “Most students in the ESL programwere out of it in two to three years, while most students in bilingualclasses took four to seven years to move into regular classrooms” (35). All of these experts, and many others, who have researched bilingualeducation have come up with the same results and that is: it is taking waytoo long for LEP students in bilingual programs to learn English.

    SuzanneGuerrero, a 14-year veteran bilingual education teacher in California hadthis to say:In order for children to become fluent in English, they must beexposed to English as much as possible. This is especially truefor the many students whom school is the only place where theyuse English. Yet I am required by my district to teach thosechildren who do not come from English-speaking families in theirnative language – Spanish in my case – until they formallytransition into English. To do this, they must meet certaincriteria, which includes passing a Spanish reading and writingtest with a score of 80 percent or higher. It takes a long timeto teach children to do that in English, let alone in twolanguages. (93)Darling 5How can students who are exposed to a majority of their native language inschool instead of English be expected to learn English? The answer is:they can’t.

    This becomes clear in a study conducted by the New York CityBoard of Education from 1990-1994 where three-year exit rates were comparedbetween ESL and bilingual education programs. The study showed that forLEP students who entered in Kindergarten that 79 percent of the ESLstudents exited the program after three years in comparison to only 51percent in a bilingual education program. When students entered in secondgrade, 67 percent of student in the ESL program exited after three yearswith only 22 percent from the bilingual program. These numbers loweredagain when LEP students did not enter until the sixth grade with 32 percentfrom ESL and 6 percent from bilingual education. (Amselle 121) “For thesereasons, I believe it’s best to begin teaching English to non-English-speaking students in the earliest grades,” says Whitehill-Law.

    “This meansthat most students can be fully integrated into mainstream classrooms wellbefore the crucial high school years” (90). Because of the importance ofliteracy skills in academic success, students need to achieve fluency wellbefore high school. It’s extremely important to develop these reading andwriting skills from the earliest age possible (Whitehill-Law 90) and toexpose LEP students to English in large quantities without confusing theirlearning with native-language instruction. Another reason that I do not support more money being spent onbilingual education is because it does not promote unity among citizens inthis country. When schools choose to use TBE (Transitional bilingualeducation) to teach LEP students English, they are promoting the use andlearning of the students’ native language and culture, and they are alsokeeping these students out of mainstream classes and away from English-speaking peers for many years. Senator Robert Dole, R -Kan.

    said that U. S. schools must teach immigrant children English and “stop the practice ofmultilingual education as a means of instilling ethnic pride or as atherapyDarling 6for low self-esteem or out of elitist guilt over a culture built on thetraditions of the West” (qtd. in Worsnap 2).

    He later added that”Promoting English as our national language is not an act of hostility buta welcoming act of inclusion . . . , bilingualism supporters arepressing for long-term exercises in native-language instruction andthousands of children are failing to learn the language, English, that isthe ticket to the American dream” (qtd. in Worsnap 2). Official-Englishsupporters say that their adversaries are liberal elitists who want toseparate Americans in warring ethnic camps, confined to language ghettos,isolated from economic opportunity and contemptuous of U.

    S. culture(Worsnap 2). They also accuse the bilingual camp of wanting to explode thecultural melting pot that has made the United States a relatively peacefulsociety derived from many cultures (Worsnap 2-3). Why should America bedifferent than any other nation with a common language? Just as Americansrelocating to a foreign country, immigrants coming to the United States”have a duty . . .

    to understand and respect our system, including ourlanguage,” said Stanley Diamond, chairman of the National English Campaign(qtd in Worsnap 8). President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the country’sforemost advocates of “Americanization”, wrote in The Foes of Our Household(published in 1917), “any man who comes here . . .

    must adopt the languagewhich is now the native tongue of our people . . . . It would not be merelya misfortune, but a crime to perpetuate differences of language in thiscountry” (qtd in Dunlap 7). Bilingual education, with its insistence onmaintaining people’s native languages at the expense of our commonlanguage, violates the basic tenet of nation-building (Roth 16).

    “We mustnot lose sight of the fact that this is not just an abstract public policyissue; bilingual education and our national language policies have realworld consequences,” said Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis. , sponsor of an official-English bill. “When our policies serve to divide rather than unite us, therips appear in the very fabric of the American nation” (16). He added,”Only those who are ripping off . .

    . government programs, likeDarling 7bilingual education . . . are opposed to official English” (qtd in Dunlap3). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

    , wrote in his 1995 book, ToRenew America, that “Without English as a common language there is noAmerican civilization” (qtd in Dunlap 2). It is clear to me thatprograms like bilingual education separate instead of unify and thatwithout unity in this nation, we cannot hope to see immigrants achieve thetrue American dream – prosperity – they came here to find. Advocates of bilingual education say that their main goal is to teachEnglish to non-English-speaking children. “But the truth is that theirprimary purpose is to perpetuate a seriously flawed teaching method so thatthe bureaucracy that supports it can sustain itself.

    Their livelihoodsdepend on promoting the myth that children taught in one language willlearn English,” says Sally Peterson, founder and director of LEAD (LearningEnglish Advocates Drive). “If these children ever do learn English, ittakes years” (89). Advocates also claim that children need to be taught intheir native language because of self-esteem. But there is no evidencethat bilingual education has an impact on a student’s self worth (Peterson79). “Why after 25 years can’t bilingual education advocates silencetheir critics with overwhelming proof that native-language instructionworks?” proposed Peterson. Her answer, “They cannot, because the proofdoes not exist” (79).

    Another misconception by bilingual supporters isthat reading skills easily transfer from one language to another. This isonly true in certain limited cases. Being literate in one language meansyou have an understanding of what the reading process is about which is animportant first step. For different languages, however, different decodingstrategies are employed.

    The vowel systems in Spanish and English arequite different, and this causes a lot of initial difficulty in reading forSpanish speakers. (Guerrero 91)Darling 8Native-language-based bilingual education is a human tragedy ofnational proportions. Thousands of promising young people in publicschools are segregated for years by language. They fail to achieve theirpotential because they cannot compete in the educational mainstream,so in turn, they become discouraged and quit.

    (Peterson 79) Statisticsprove that when students are not proficient in English by high school thatdrop out rates increase dramatically. In a November 1989 population studyby the U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, they found thatonly 10.

    5 percent of English-speaking teens dropped out of high school incomparison to almost 50 percent of Spanish-speaking teens that have adifficulty with English (Amselle 112). Currently in the U. S. , there areover two million LEP students in the public school system with more andmore moving here every year. Billions of federal, state and local dollarsare being spent on bilingual education programs that do not work.

    In 1992alone, over $5 billion dollars of state and local money was spent onbilingual education (Amselle 118). And what has been the result of thisgrand expenditure? Well, there are no results because there has been noaccountability set up to monitor bilingual education. Both California andMassachusetts, in state reports published in 1992 and 1994, admitted tothis failure (Porter 34). In addition, California, with 1. 2 million LEPstudents also reported that teachers were not testing students for exitfrom bilingual programs and keeping these children in bilingual classroomsyears beyond the point where they need special help (Porter 34). Bilingualeducation has grown tremendously from its modest start and currently some2.

    5 million children are eligible for bilingual or ESL classes (Chavez 10). According to Roth, 32 million Americans don’t speak English and in justfive years, that number will rise to 40 million which when put inperspective means that one in seven homes, the inhabitants speak a foreignlanguage (13). For most of our nation’s history, America gave the childrenof immigrants a great gift – an education in the English language. Whatare we doing now for these new Americans today? Instead of givingDarling 9them a first-rate education in English, our bilingual education programsare consigning an entire generation of new Americans – unable to speak,understand, and use English effectively – to a second-class future. (Roth13)Darling 10BibliographyWorsnap, Richard L.

    Bilingual Education. CQ Press. 1993. 18 Oct 2002. .

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