All immigrant parents want their kids to
learn English. THEN, WHY , do we have
a multi-billion bureaucracy to promote
bilingual education? WHY?
ONE NATION, ONE COMMON LANGUAGE!
By: LINDA CHAVEZ
L UIS GRANADOS was a bright five-year-old who could read simple words before he entered kindergarten in Sun Valley, California. But soon after the school year began, his mother was told that he couldn’t keep up. Yolanda Granados was bewildered. “He knows his alphabet,” she assured the teacher. “You don’t understand,” the teacher explained. “The use of both Spanish and English in the classroom is confusing to him.”
Yolanda Granados was born in Mexico but speaks excellent English. Simply because Spanish is sometimes spoken in her household, however, the school district --without consulting her—put her son in bilingual classes. “I sent Luis to school to learn English,” she declares. When she tried to put her boy into regular classes, she was given the run-around. “Every time I went to the school,” she says, “the principal gave me some excuse.” Finally, Granados figured out a way to get around the principal, who has since left the school. Each school year, she had to meet with Luis’s teachers to say she wanted her son taught solely in English. They cooperated with her, but Luis was still officially classified as a bilingual student until he entered the sixth grade.
Unfortunately, the Granados family’s experience has become common around the
country. When bilingual education was being considered by Congress, it had a
limited mission: to teach children of Mexican descent in Spanish while they learned
English. Instead, it has become an expensive behemoth, often with a far-reaching
political agenda: to promote Spanish among Hispanic children—regardless of
whether they speak English or not, regardless of their parents’ wishes and even
without their knowledge. For instance:
****The Los Angeles Unified School District educates some 265,000 Spanish-speaking children, more than any other in the nation. It advises teachers, in the words of the Districts l3ilingual Methodology Study Guide, “not to encourage minority parents to switch to English in the home, but to encourage them to strongly promote development of the primary language.” Incredibly, the guide also declares that “excessive use of English in bilingual classrooms tends to lower students’ achievement in English.”
****In Denver, 2500 students from countries such as Russia and Vietnam learn grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation in ESL (English as a Second Language). An English “immersion” program, ESI. is the principal alternative to bilingual education. Within a few months, most ESL kids are taking mathematics, science and social-studies classes in English.
But the 11,000 Hispanic children in Denver public schools don’t have the choice to participate in F.S1. full time. Instead, for their first few years they are taught most of the day in Spanish and are introduced only gradually to English. Jo Thomas, head of the bilingual/ESI. education program for the Denver public schools, estimates these kids will ultimately spend on average five to seven years in its bilingual program.
Activist Takeover. Bilingual education began in the late 1960s as a small, $7.5-million federal program primarily for Mexican-American children, half of whom could not speak English when they entered first grade. The idea was to teach them in Spanish for a short period, until they got up to speed in their new language.
Sen. Ralph Yarborough (D., Texas), a leading sponsor of the first federal bilingual law in 1968, explained that its intent was “to make children fully literate in English.” Yarborough assured Congress that the purpose was “not to make the mother tongue dominant.” Unfortunately, bilingual-education policy soon fell under the sway of political activists demanding recognition of the “group rights” of cultural and linguistic minorities. By the late 1970s the federal civil-rights office was insisting that school districts offer bilingual education to Hispanic and other “language minority” students or face a cutoff of federal funds.
Most states followed suit, adopting bilingual mandates either by law or by bureau-cratic edict. The result is that, nationally, most first-grade students from Spanish -speaking homes are taught to read and write in Spanish.
The purpose in many cases is no longer to bring immigrant children into the main-stream of American life. Some advocates see bilingual education as the first step in a radical transformation of the United States into a nation without one common language or fixed borders.
Spanish “should no longer be regarded as a “foreign’ language,” according to Josue Gonzalez, director of bilingual education in the Carter Administration and now a professor at Columbia University Teachers College. Instead, he writes in Reinventing Urban Education, Spanish should he “a second national language.” Others have even more extreme views. At last February’s annual conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education (a leading lobbying group for supporters of bilingual education) in Phoenix, several speakers challenged the idea of U.S. sovereignty and promoted the notion that the Southwest and northern Mexico form one cultural region, which they dub “La Fmntera.”
Eugene Garcia, head of bilingual education at the U.S. Department of Education, declared to thunderous applause that “the border for many is nonexistent. For mc, for intellectual reasons, that border shall be nonexistent.” His statement might surprise President Clinton, who appointed Garcia and has vowed to beef up border protection to stem the flow of illegal aliens into the United States. “I was furious.” Bilingual education has grown tremendously from 2.4 million children are eligible for bilingual or ESL classes, with bilingual education alone costing over $5.5 billion. New York City, for instance, spends $400 million annually on its 147,500 bilingual students $2712 per pupil.
A great deal of this money is being wasted. “We don’t even speak Spanish at home,” says Miguel Alvarado of Sun Valley, California ., yet his eight-year- old daughter, Emily, was put in a bilingual class. Alvarado concludes that this was done simply because he is bilingual. When my son Pablo entered school in the District of Columbia, I received a letter notifying me that he would be placed in a bilingual program even though Pablo didn’t speak a word of Spanish, since I grew up not speaking it either. (My family has lived in what is now New Mexico since 1609.) I was able to decline the program without much trouble, but other Hispanic parents aren’t always so fortunate.
When Rita Montero’s son, Camilo, grew bored by the slow academic pace of his first-grade bilingual class in Denver, she requested a transfer. “The kids were doing work way below the regular grade level,” says Montero. “I was furious.” Officials argued they were under court order to place him in a bilingual class. In fact, she was entitled to sign a waiver, hut no one she met at school informed her of this. Ultimately she enrolled Camilo in a magnet school across town. Says Montero, “Only through a lot of determination and its modest start. Currently, 2.4 million children are eligible for bilingual or ESL classes, with bilingual education alone costing over $5.5 billion. New York City, for instance, spends $400 million annually on its 147,500 bilingual students—$2712 per pupil.
A great deal of this money is being wasted. “We don’t even speak Spanish at home,” says Miguel Alvarado of Sun Valley, Calif., yet his eight-year-old daughter, Emily, was put in a bilingual class. Alvarado concludes that this was done simply because he is bilingual. When my son Pablo entered school in the District of Columbia, I received a letter notifying me that he would be placed in a bilingual program—even though Pablo didn’t speak a word of Spanish, since I grew up not speaking it either. (My family has lived in what is now New Mexico since 1609.) I was able to decline the program without much trouble, but other Hispanic parents aren’t always so fortunate.
When Rita Montero’s son, Camilo, grew bored by the slow academic pace of his first-grade bilingual class in Denver, she requested a transfer. “The kids were doing work way below the regular grade level,” says Montero. “I was furious.” Officials argued they were under court order to place him in a bilingual class. In fact, she was entitled to sign a waiver, hut no one she met at school informed her of this. Ultimately she enrolled Camilo in a magnet school across town. Says Montero, “Only through a lot of determination and anger did I get my son in the classroom where he belonged.” Most parents—especially immigrants—aren’t so lucky. They’re intimidated by the system, and their kids are stuck.
Most school districts with large Hispanic populations require parents with Spanish surnames to fill out a “home-language survey.” If parents report that Spanish is used in the home, even occasionally, the school may place the child in bilingual classes. Unbeknown to parents, a Spanish-speaking grandparent living with the family may be enough to trigger placement, even if the grandchild speaks little or no Spanish. Though parents are supposed to be able to opt out, bureaucrats have a vested interest in discouraging them, since the school will lose government funds. In some districts, funding for bilingual education exceeds that for mainstream classes by 20 percent or more. New York State, for example, doesn’t allow Hispanic students to exit the bilingual program until they score above the 4oth percentile on a standard-ized English test. “There’s a Catch-22 operating here,” says Christine Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University. She explains that such testing guarantees enrollment in the program, for “by definition, 40 per-cent of all students who take any standardized test will score at or below the 4oth percentile.”
FAMILY’S BUSINESS. Bilingual programs are also wasted on children
who do need help learning English. Studies confirm what common sense would tell you: the less time you spend speaking a new language, the more slowly you’ll learn it. Last year, 1994, bilingual and ESL programs in New York City were compared. Results: 92 percent of Korean, 87 percent of Russian, and 83 percent of Chinese children who started intensive ESL classes in kindergarten had made it into mainstream classes in three years or less. Of the Hispanic students in bilingual classes, only half made it to mainstream classes within three years. “How can anyone learn English in school when they speak Spanish 41/2 hours a day?” asks Gail Fiber, an elementary-school teacher in Southern California. “in more than seven years experience with bilingual education, I’ve never seen it done successfully.” Rosalie Pedalino Porter, former director of bilingual education in Newton, Mass., and now with the Institute for Research in English Acquisition and Development, reached a similar conclusion. “1 felt that I was deliberately holding back the learning of English,” she writes in her eloquent critique, Forked Tongue: The Politics of Bilingual Education.
Native-language instruction is not even necessary to academic performance, according to Boston University’s Rosscll. “Ninety-one percent of scientifically valid studies show bilingual education to be no better—or actually worse—than doing nothing.” In other words, students who are allowed to sink or swim in all-English classes are actually better off than bilingual students. The overwhelming majority of immigrants believe that it is a family’s duty—not the school’s—to help children maintain the native language. “If parents had an option,” says Lila Ramirez, vice president of the Burbank, California, Human Relations Council, “they’d prefer all-English to all-Spanish.” When a U.S. Department of Education survey asked Mexican and Cuban parents what they wanted, four-fifths declared their opposition to teaching children in their native language if it meant less time devoted to English.
SENSE OF UNITY. It’s time for federal and state legislators to overhaul this misbegotten program. The best policy for children—and for the country—is to teach English to immigrant children as quickly as possible American-born Hispanics, who now make up more than half of all bilingual students, should be taught in English. Bilingual education probably would end swiftly if more people knew about last November’s meeting of the Texas Association for Bilingual Education, in Austin. Both the Mexican and U. S. flags adorned the stage at this gathering, and the attendees—mainly Texas teachers and administrators—stood as the national anthems of both countries were sung. At least one educator present found the episode dismaying. “I stood, out of respect, when the Mexican anthem was played,” says Odilia Leal, bilingual coordinator for the Temple Independent School District. “But I think we should just sing the U.S. anthem. My father, who was born in Mexico, taught me that the United States, not Mexico, is my country.” With 20 million immigrants now living in our country, it’s more important than ever to teach newcomers to think of themselves as Americans if we hope to remain one people, not simply a conglomeration of different groups. And one of the most effective ways of forging that sense of unity is through a common language.
LINDA CHAVEZ, former director
of the U.S. Commission on Civil
Rights, is president of the Center
for Equal Opportunity.
Copyright @ 1995, (July)
Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993