September 29, 1997
Questions asked in this forum:
What kinds of bilingual programs exist in other countries? What is the scientific evidence that bilingual education does or does not work? How does institutional racism influence the bilingual debate? Are there bilingual programs for students who come from China, Vietnam, Japan, Egypt, Kenya? Additional comments...
A NewsHour report on bilingual education.
The Ebonics debate moves to the U.S. Senate.
The disparity between caucasian and minority children's literacy rates is on the increase
February 11, 1997:
The U.S. Congress debates whether to ban the children of illegal immigrants from the public education system
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of education.
Ron Unz's "English for the Children"
The National Association for Bilingual Education.
A question from Herman Roessler of Lorena Tx:
I hear and read constantly the phrase 'cultural heritage' or 'cultural ties' associated with the need for bilingual education. It often seems to be more of the reason than any stated educational value.
Why is it the responsibility of the public to maintain the cultural heritage for a select group? What about teaching in Czech, German, Russian etc? Why is it the responsibility to teach one group in such a fashion when generations of previous immigrant groups were able to effectively learn English, gain citizenship and prosper? Does history not provide any lessons?
James Lyons of the National Association for Bilingual Education responds:
The most important lesson history provides us is that English-Only instruction does not work. It is a myth that previous generations of immigrants quickly learned English and prospered in America. In fact, today's immigrants are learning English faster than previous generations. The old three-generation pattern of English acquisition (first generation monolingual in the native language, second generation bilingual, and third generation monolingual in English), has now become a two-generation process. In 1910, 15% of the foreign-born population aged 10 and over was unable to speak English; in 1990, that figure was only 4.2% of persons 5 years and over.
Previous groups of immigrants did not succeed in English-only schools either. In 1908, for example, only 13% of the children of non-English-speaking immigrants enrolled in high school in New York City. In 1960, 50% of California's Hispanic students — most of them born in the U.S. — dropped out of school before the 8th grade. Today, limited-English-proficient students who receive all their instruction in English do not achieve as well academically or become as proficient in English as their counterparts who are in bilingual education programs.
More importantly, the world for which students need to be prepared has changed drastically. Early immigrants were able to prosper in a labor intensive economy centered on farming, construction, railroads, factories, etc., which did not require advanced formal schooling or high degrees of literacy in English. Today's students must be prepared to compete in a high- technology, global economy which relies on advanced literacy and educational attainment.
Bilingual education provides a vehicle for today's immigrant students to progress academically while they are learning English. The goal is two-fold: learning content and learning English. Programs funded under the Federal Bilingual Education Act serve students from 108 different language groups — including Russian, Czech and German — not just Spanish. Bilingual education programs build upon the skills and knowledge a student brings to the classroom and presents content material in a culturally-relevant manner to facilitate the student's understanding of the material being presented.
Ron Unz of "English for the Children" responds:
The absurdity of requiring the government rather than the family to preserve a family's cultural heritage indicates the weakness of this argument in favor of "bilingual education."