September 29, 1997
Questions asked in this forum:
What kinds of bilingual programs exist in other countries? Do bilingual classes exist for educational or cultural purposes? 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.
Shirley Kahlert, Ph.D. of Merced, CA
My English-speaking children attended two biligual schools in the Watsonville, California area; the experience enriched our entire family. Both Spanish speaking and English speaking children won awards for "transitioning" into the other language. Neither language was privileged in the classroom or assemblies. We noticed that white middle class families gained a great deal from contact with Spanish speaking families who were often farmworkers. And equally as often, parents from Mexico would place their children in English only classrooms because they believed English would help their children succeed.
Isn't it nice that we all had a choice, that our children could speak with each other in either language, that they at least had gotten past that awful, segregated system where no one could talk to anyone from a different group?
I remember driving down our country road past the migrant camp each morning and watching moms put their kids on the school bus; the looks on their faces told me what motivated the parents to work long, hard hours in the strawberry fields. I wonder how many parents could make that committment to their children's education?
John Matel of Falls Church, VA
English is the international language. Parents in countries around the world put their children in English-language schools because they recognize that Enlgish is a key to success in today's world. How much more true in the United States? The goal of "bilingual education" should be to build skills in English. That's all. Sucess should be judged simply. If bilingual education improves English learning, it is good. If it hinders, it is bad. If it does neither, it is a waste of time and money. Preserving heritage is valid goal, but is best left to families or private organizations. Some will choose not to perpetuate much of what they left behind.
Like 58 million other Americans, my ancestors came from Germany. We are America's largest minority. While I sometimes wish I could speak more German, I thank God English is my first language. I wonder if that would be true if bilingual education had been available two generations ago. Could it be that I would still speak English with an accent and be imprisoned in my "ethnic enclave?"
Carol Huber of St. Petersburg, FL
As a teacher in the public schools for 24 years, I have been asked to take a count of only "black" or "white" students in my classes. This becomes increasingly difficult, as it is no longer "clear" in what racial group a student may be categorized. To me, this is a wonderful sign. Teddy Roosevelt put a stop to hyphenated Americans as a discriminatory and derogatory label, yet we're addressing ONLY African-Americans as "different." I understand and applaud the legislation necessary to push Americans into acceptance of the segment of our population that was brought to this country in chains, but let's rethink (and redefine) what America truly is ... a nation of immigrants.
I believe it's time to change focus: the glass is now half full! It has begun with the welfare reforms, let's take that same focus to the schools. Provide assistance to those who NEED it (underprivileged), rather than dividing a country by color, causing many to choose a label. Legislate equality, not color!
There is a marvelous story that I use with my students to discuss the concept of "equality"; "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I recommend it!
A. L. Bishop of New York, NY
Why do we in the U.S. deprive our children of being bilingual, especially when they come from poor socio-economic backgrounds? It seems that being bilingual or multilingual is only at a premium at private schools, where parents realize the importance of a second, and sometimes third language in the global economy and even just in parts of the U.S. economy. Shouldn't the U.S. -- like much of the rest of the world -- require two (2) languages of every student from Kindergarden or first grade on up? We definitely should not go around depriving students who are already potentially bilingual from becoming bi-literate.
Shelly Spiegel-Coleman of Long Beach, California
Mr. Unz Whether we believe in bilingual education or not doesn't seem to be the issue. The question I have is about what you are requiring in the proposed inititative. bilingual education. You are not allowing any choice for parents of children in kindergarten through 5th grade.
I am a teacher and a parent of two children who have been enrolled in bilingual programs. From the first day of kindergarten by children began to learn to read, do math,They studies addition, subtraction,multiplication and division before the age of ten. Coloring and cutting was not a subtract or an activity that consumed their time s two parts; What do you base your assumption on that students can learn enough English in multigraded classrooms in one year to compete academically and linguistically with native English speakers? and As someone who is always supporting the parents' right to choose in Los Angeles Unified School District whose children were younger then 10 years old, how can you propose a law that would now deny that right to choose to the very same group of parents?
Tina Gilmore of Rancho Palos Verdes
I am a bilingual teacher in Los Angeles. I have taught both primary language (Spanish) and English only students. My observations have been that my students who were taught in their primary language outperform my students who were either English only or limited English proficient but taught in English only at the request of their parents. (Yes! the parents do have a choice!!) The primary language students outperformed the English students not only in skills they learned in their primary language, but also in skills they later transferred over to English during the course of the school year. I have seen studies where bilingual students outperform monolingual students in higher-order thinking skills. Perhaps this threatens the backers of "English for the Children" as it poses a threat to the dominant culture status quo?
Yvonne Freeman of Fresno, California
There has been a great deal of research in support of bilingual education when it is long term and consistent (Krashen, 1997; Cummins, 1997; Collier, 1995, Collier and Thomas, 1996) to name just some. How is it that English Only advocates continaully discount this research and use hearsay "I've talked to friends or business associates who were immigrants and they say you can learn English in a few months!" as their proof that bilingual education is a waste of time and money. Even common sense would show opponents that two or three months being in a country and studying is not enough to help students carry on ACADEMIC tasks in school. This is especially true when students have not had ANY schooling in the first language in the native country. More English DOES NOT equal more English. In fact, the stronger the first language base is, the better students do IN ENGLISH.
In addition, to this strong theoretical (and now research based) point, there are other troubling arguements. For one, in California, there is a shortage of over 20,000 bilingual teachers. How, then, can we say bilingual students have had Bilingual Education? In fact, the percentage actually served who need to be given bilingual education is small. In 1996 only 49 per cent of LEP (limited English proficient) students received ANY first language support and that DOES NOT mean they were in a bilingual program. In fact, it is likely that less than 30 percent were in a bilingual program.
A final troubling point is that to make it illegal for students to learn in their first language, schools will be taking away a bilingual resource that is much needed in this country. A monolingual U.S. is a frightening reality already in this nation. How can we hope to survie in this ever shrinking global society?
The English Only Advocates have an agenda that does NOT mean to help children in schools do better. That agenda will feed on further division and ultimately, lead to more drop outs than we already have. Only through MORE bilingual education, can we hope to help ALL students finish their education.
Jane Robinson of Gallup, New Mexico
I am a teacher in the south west. I am finding many students here are not so much bi-lingual, as they are semi-lingual. I am struggling with how to help them acquire the language skills they need to survive, when they apparently come from homes where their parents don't have strong language skills in english, or in their native tongues (spanish, navajo, zuni, hopi). I think we need to invest in building the skills in both their native tongue and in english.
James Nolen of Orlando, Florida
Being a former public school substitute teacher for several years my observations are as follows: If you make too many excuses for anyone, they will take advantage of them. Most children, like people, like electricity, will take the path of least resistance.
One year of E.S.L. during the school day should be enough. If further help is needed, then after school programs should be instituted with manditory participation, and continuous testing instituted to insure progress. Any speaking of a language other than enlish during the school day for any student other than a first year student, should be repremanded and punished in some way to stop it. You may feel sorry for them but you are not doing them any favors.
Children and adults are smarter than you think! Phonics works! Especially in E.S.L. situations.
Shelley Preston of St. Louis, MO
I have worked with parents of children in bilingual ed programs in New York. The biggest problem that I found was the children were not monitored carefully by teachers and they often stayed in bilingual ed programs too long. It seemed like the schools wanted to keep the students in the bilingual ed classes longer than was necessary. It makes me wonder if states try to get as many children in these programs so that they can qualify for more federal dollars. It doesn't seem like the programs work in the interests of the children they seek to serve. .
Frederick H. Bartlett of Mercerville, NJ
It seems to me that if I moved to some other country -- France, say -- and then demanded that the French government provide instruction in English for my children, the reaction of the French government and people would be, first, stunned disbelief, and, second, raucous laughter.
Given the dubious benefits and high cost of American bilingual education, it is foolish to maintain the program.
Or can you, Mr. Lyons, point to a successful bilingual education program for immigrants in any other country?
L. Antonio Gonzalez of El Paso, Texas
I believe Mr Lyons presented the facts very well about the benefits of bilingual education. What I believe was not clear in the dialogue was the definition of the two levels of language that are learned by children. That's where I believe Mr. Unz is misinformed. Children learn their native language orally with some literacy skills emerging as they get ready for school. Let's be certain here that we're talking any language, English or otherwise. If the parents work with their children at home and read to them and talk to them, these children will have many literacy skills to use as a foundation in school. But, we must remember that the child does come to school strongest in their oral ability. The same happens to a child who enters the bilingual program. First they take on average about two year to learn the second language orally. This is not unlike the native language when learned as a child at home. This means learning how to speak and the nuances of the language.
The issue now should be, why not bilingual education for all children, English speakers and Second language speakers. We now have Two Way Dual Language Programs that give the benefit of a second language to all children. That should be the norm in the United States like it is in most counties. Let's graduate from squabbling about bilingualism being a negative and start talking about the many languages our children can use. That is real higher order thinking besides the fact that it promotes a more humanistic society with a better understanding of each other.
Steve Kunz of Tucson,AZ
Do we want to do things the quick and easy way or do we want to do things the correct way? As usual our society is looking for a fast and easy solution. When you force immigrants to learn English right away it is at the expense of self-identity,self-esteem and cultural identity. A well run bilingual program results in literacy in two languages. An English only program results in only one language at the expense of cultural identity.
Here in the Southwest a bilingual person has a desired marketable skill and an advantage in the job market. As soon as I became fluent and literate in Spanish and English I had an advantage when seeking jobs. I could communicate with everyone in my community. Most of my co-workers could not.
My son,an Anglo, is in a bilingual program.He is reading and writing in both Spanish and English.He can communicate to all in his community. His Spanish speaking friends are learning both languages also.
What is the fear? Why is there a problem with a cultural group maintaining their language? Immigrant families know the value of English and encourage their children. I have seen studies that show that students in well-run bilingual programs exceed their counterparts who learn in English only.
Do you think that low test scores in California and elsewhere result from past generations who did not learn their native language and were pushed into English at the expense of their self-identity, self-esteem and cultural identity?
David Dolson of Sacramento, CA
In many countries, to be considered truely educated, one must speak two or more languages fluently and in fact, many countries have designed bilingual educational programs to accomplish this on a large scale. Instead of demanding reforms in America's schools which would lead to superior academic performance in two languages, Ron Unz is proposing a monolingual initiative that would prohibit bilingual programs and thus eliminate the chance for not only world class schooling but an equal educational opportunity for several million children who do not speak English at home. Why the draconian measure to restrict schools when what is needed is leadership and incentives to insure that schools systematically develop a highly educated multilingual citizenry? Are we saying that America is incapable of implementing bilingual education when it has been done successfully in dozens of other countries?