Although times change, yet governmental bodies do not often accommodate the needs of minorities. It is common for some groups in America to dominate the workings of the country. Some focus groups fight changes that can help create positive transformations. Those with knowledge and power sometimes inhibit the passing of new laws and administration of funds.
One area that underscores this constant struggle for equity and dominance is the educational system. For many people “speaking English is valued for its perceived link with liberty, freedom, justice and wealth.” (Baker p. 385)Yet the arbitrariness of federal mandates, population growth, and belief systems of voters causes inconsistency in education. As the dynamics of the country change, many groups worry that immigrant, “pride in their heritage and language and allegiance to their roots rather than their country (the U.S)… diminish a sense of Americanism.” (Crawford p. 73)
Schools are used to assimilate and produce literate constituency. Yet many disagree how to use the education to integrate newcomers. In the mid 60’s the focus of education was language “immersion”. Immersion occurred in monolingual classes with a “pull out” time for special instruction. The focus was to teach English as quickly as possible and assimilate students into American society.
Many people spent their lives believing that language immersion was the best way to educate new entrants into this country. However, many immigrants learned that this process had some negative impacts to identity and self-esteem. Sometimes children assimilate and parents do not causing discord.
Other groups, such as some Hispanic youths were not learning English as well. Stephen D. Krashen mentions that, “The impression we get from the media is that immigrants today are not acquiring English; in fact it is sometimes claimed that they resist it…Reports such as these motivate proposals to protect the English language in the United States, including the proposal to make English our official language. (Krashen p.51) This is not the case. According to Stephen Krashen, “the US census shows that about 50% of those with Spanish as a first language report more use of English as their language of communication.” The rest of the 50% would assuredly be in communities that have little incentive to learn English because they spend a majority of time isolated within these cultural enclaves where most of their needs are met without speaking English.
The Bilingual Education Program arose to aid these English learners. Nevertheless, some still support the “English Only” education. While supporters of “Bilingual Education” feel that it is necessary to have the best of both worlds, keep one’s heritage and hold allegiance to the new country.
Our population of immigrants has grown and with that, an increase in school aged children. We lag behind in the education of both English learners and monolinguals (native English speakers). So, how are we to create an atmosphere where both monolingual and bilingual students receive a fair and equitable education?
Eugene E. Garcia states that,
“Students (immigrants), who for many emerging ethnic and racial majority, continue to be “at risk” in today’s social institutions… In addition, these children continue to live in racial/ethnic isolation. .. High school completion rates are alarming for the student populations. In 1998, the high school completion rate for the U.S. population was 81.1% for 19 year old, For blacks and Hispanics, the rate of completion in all age groups was close to 60% (U.S. Dept of education, a 1998). (Adapted from Garcia, 2005pp.1-2)
The changing political climate of our country continues to influence educational outcomes. This is a tumultuous time for all in the United States. The worldwide economic situation affects all in this country and we must meet the needs of monolingual and bilingual students.
Another facet is that education is not the same in each state. Although there are federal rules enacted that affect states, education is not the same for all. Each state deals with the issue of the education of English Language learners and monolinguals differently. Some states are more homogeneous in population and more ethnocentric in disposition. Therefore, it is difficult to implement bilingual/ bi-cultural education.
Some studies suggest that certain efforts can promote language bilingualism in both English learners and in English speakers. The following have been suggested as effective methods: “Foster English acquisition and the development of mature literacy”, “deliver grade level content”, “organize instruction in innovative ways”, “protect and extend instructional time”, “expand the roles and responsibilities of teachers”, “address students’ social and emotional needs”, and “involve parents in their children’s education”. (Adapted from Garcia, 2005, pp. 45 -47).
The aforementioned factors can enhance education for all. First, in order to foster the acquisition of the English language students have to learn to appreciate their own language and increase in literacy in both languages. Second, English language learners have to receive the same instruction as monolinguals. Third, instruction has to be “innovative” and the context of material must be relevant. Fourth, instructional time needs to be regulated. Teachers spend too much time testing or going to meetings. Fifth, teacher input is necessary. Sixth, the social context of student experience is often far removed from educational material. Seventh, involve parents.
The Dual-Language program is one program that has emerged that can help implement these principles. According to Garcia, “the goals of DL are to provide high – quality instruction for language – minority students and to provide instruction in a second language for English-speaking students. Schools teach children language through content, with teachers adapting their instruction to ensure children’s comprehension and using content lessons to convey vocabulary and language structure. Striving for half language – minority students and half English – speaking students in each classroom, DL programs also aim to teach cross – cultural awareness.”
The two major models for the Dual-Language program that is prominent are the 50:50 and 90:10 model. The first strives to have students spend half their day in English instruction and half in Spanish. The latter spends 90% of kindergarten “in the minority language” with a gradual decrease to 50% “by the fourth or fifth grade”. The aim of these programs is dual in nature to help English learners learn the majority language at the same time help monolinguals to acquire a second language. The research team Aleksandr Shneyderman and Rodolfo Abella point out, “The common conclusion of many studies is that students in these bilingual programs performed as well as or better than their peers in monolingual programs.”
Some studies suggest, “Good teaching is not enough. In the increasingly multilingual and multicultural classrooms, teachers must take advantage of the presence of linguistic and cultural diversity to challenge their instructional practices and enrich curriculum content.” (Haas & Gort pp.125)
There are “language paradoxes that are daily enacted and resolved in the classroom: ensuring equality of opportunity for all while celebrating distinctiveness and difference; ensuring that diversity does not become discord; encouraging students to share a common purpose while encouraging colorful variety; developing the dignity of ethnicity while aiding national stability” is a battle that is constant in American schools. (Baker p. 382-383)
Why is bilingual Education such a hot topic? Well it hits people’s pocketbooks and identities. The current economic downturn and difficulty is affecting everyone as well as our social systems of which education is a part. To reap the rewards we must invest time and money in our children. According to Melinda Martin- Beltrán, “Two languages bridge gaps for one student, (and) become learning opportunities for another.” (Martin-Beltrán p.260) There are always components of education that are worth saving. We must take the best and build on it.
We have thrived in spite of our differences and the framework of our laws has allowed flexibility and growth. In spite of difficulties and growing pains, we can strive to move forward for the benefit of our society. We have to manage our economic resources more effectively to achieve a positive outcome. We cannot afford to continue to haggle with every whim of political doctrine to achieve success with our children.
Baker, Colin. (2006) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto, Sydney: Multilingual Matters.
Crawford, James. (1999). Bilingual Education: History, Politic, Theory and Practice. United States of America: Bilingual Educational Services, Inc.
Garcia, Eugene E. (2005). Teaching and Learning in Two Languages Bilingualism and Schooling in the United States. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Haas, Eric and Gort, Mileidis. (2009) Demanding More: Legal Standards and Best Practices for English Language Learners. Bilingual Research Journal. 32, 2: p.116-135.
Krashen, Stephen D. (1999) CONDEMNED Without a trial Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education. Portsmouth, NH: HEINEMANN.
Krashen, Stephen D. (1996) Under Attack: the Case Against Bilingual Education. Culver City, California: Language Education Associates.
Martin-Beltrán, Melinda (2010). The two-Way Language Bridge: Co-Constructing Bilingual Language Learning Opportunities. The Modern Language Journal, 94 pp. 255-277.
Shneyderman, Aleksandr and Abella, Rodolfo. (2009). The Effects of the Extended Foreign Language Programs on Spanish-Language Proficiency and Academic Achievement in English. Bilingual Research Journal, 32: pp. 241-259.