Bilingual Education in the United States have become an interesting subject for debate. Some people believe that the culture of other people should be applied in the country through their linguistic origin. This means that minority languages should also be used as a medium of instruction. Some people advocate the strict use of the English language as the standard of learning. While this may affect the reduced application of other linguistic aims embedded in the minorities, they argue that this would promote national unity and educational solidarity. This paper is in favor of utilizing other languages as a medium for teaching to promote bilingualism. It argues that this would benefit education in the United States.
This is embedded in the various studies done that involve other languages wherein the possible development of skills could be acquired if combined with existing culture (Krashen, 1997). Bilingual Education have only been viewed as a hindrance to national identity and cultural equality because of the nature of its implementation as prescribed by existing legislations. This could be changed by reconsidering existing policies. Improvement of Bilingual Education in the US should be done by inculcating the different values of the various traditions and linguistic origin of all people in the country to repeal the current view of the public that depict it as a hindrance to social configuration, national identity and cultural equality because of its bias to the English language.
The dominant English-speaking majority largely shapes the controversial debate about bilingual education in the United States. Its adoption have not only been argued based on whether to apply it or not but also founded on the implementation that should be done. Some people blame the politicians for satisfying their constituents in order to promote the culture of the dominant group while curtailing the rights of the minorities. Others view the majority as forcing the hands of their leaders to use the English language in a deceptive way. Regardless of the possible causes of the current reputation of Bilingual Education, there is a strong evidence that suggests the importance of legislation involvement. This would be discussed in detail at the later parts of the paper. For now, the focus would be the debate in the adoption as primarily initiated by the political leaders.
Bilingual Education in the United States
The English Language Learners (ELL) it the primary focus of Bilingual Education in the US. While these types of students have become dominant in the past years, there is a new trend that promotes another practice. However, current policies have still not adopted to this. There are a lot of factors involved. One of it maybe the refusal of current political leaders to absolve the monolingual status of English language as a standard of teaching. This is in direct contrast to the emerging trend. Students from a minority background can be monolingual or bilingual in both native and English language (Farruggio 222). This means that the old way of dealing with language as a medium of instruction should be vanquished to adapt to the new trend. Instead of just using English, others can also be used.
Brief Historical Background
The very first instance of Bilingual Education can be traced back to the immigration of Polish people to the country. These individuals have contributed a lot of things to the community and have inculcated their own language in everyday use. In 1619, the House of Burgesses met and implemented the rights of Englishmen only, which prompted the Poles to strike against the so-called “New World” (Seidner, 1976). This caused a dilemma. Since the country needed their skills, the Poles have been granted the same rights as the Englishmen. This established the first bilingual school that taught both English and Polish (Seidner, 1976).
In the 18th century, missionaries from countries with different languages arrived in the US. They needed a medium to communicate with the people. Indigenous languages were used and translated. In the mid 1800s, schools started using Czech, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish and other languages as a medium of instruction (Morrison, 2014). By the end of the 19th century, a lot of laws have been passed that promoted the usage of bilingual programs. The most crucial one is the Bilingual Education Act (BEA).
Controversies in the System
Amidst the changes that happened, various controversies have occurred. This is especially evident in recent times. Some people have argued that research on ELL standards have documented the more effective use of English as compared to bilingualism. However, this does not account the current trends in linguistic aims. Supporters of Bilingual Education claim that it would be easier for students to learn English if they are literate in their native language and that this could lead to them becoming bilingual (Krashen, 1997). The efficiency of such proposition have also been advocated. Effective bilingual programs aim to achieve proficiency in both native and English language. This prompted the introduction of another system. This approach is called Dual Language or Two-Way Bilingual Programs. Half of the students speak english while the other half are considered as ELLs. This aims to not only teach the languages but the diversity of culture. This advocacy should further improve the existing systems. The aim of applying this is to accommodate language diversity in society (Callahan and Gander 16).
Various movements have also arose to promote their advocacies. The group “English First” is one of it. It aims to strictly promote the stance that English should always be the official language of the United States. The Minister of Education of the Young Lords have also held marches and activities to support the said cause. Aside from the movements that come from the majority, there are also some from the minority groups. They aim to promote the expansion of Bilingual Education throughout the United States.
Challenges of Bilingual Education
Bilingual Education face a lot of challenges because of the preference of the majority. Several states have to subject the issue of bilingual education to a vote for people to decide whether it should be part of the curriculum or not. The state of Colorado went against the trend on November 5, 2002, when it became the first in the country to vote against the English-immersion amendment. Technically, the law would have abolished bilingual education in the state (Harvard Law Review Association 2709). Colorado’s vote was in contrast from a trend that had been developing in the country. This called for the abolition of bilingual education in the U.S. from a section of federal and state politicians and actors. Voters in three other states: Massachusetts, California, and Arizona cast their votes in favor of the English immersion amendment. The results signified the abolishment of bilingual education in those states; as such, leaving children with limited or no English proficiency in a state of “swim or sink."
Bilingual Education as a Threat to Social Configuration
Traditionally, the education system in the US has reflected the “social configuration of American Society.” At the same time, it is painted as a “vehicle for reformulating” those configurations with the intention of actualizing a dominant ideological norm (Harvard Law Review Association 2709). In this case, the dominant ideological norm is that English is the national language and thus, the official language to be used in spheres of public life. Bilingual education is the clearest testament of social setting. An explanation worth taking down is that states desire to assimilate immigrants into American identity. States utilize the argument of cultural equalization to segregate immigrant population through abolishing bilingual education. A few states such as Colorado seem to have reached a decision to pursue the path of social separation and preservation of immigrant’s native culture to promote bilingual education.
Recent Educational Policies
Recent educational policies have favored linguistic majorities. English societal dominance shapes the public discourse and economic trends. English as the official language of commerce and official communication has led to a public debate on bilingual education. Hypothetical arguments that are not rooted in any scientific evidence have been propagated. Their arguments revolve around the preservation of English as a national language that binds all separate non-English languages, thereby, creating a collective identity.Recent educational policies have been based on this belief since majority are speaking the English language. Proponents of this argument have not managed to provide any credible evidence to demonstrate that a multilingual society has less collective identity than a monolingual society. Additionally, critics opine that a monolingual society is a “graveyard for languages” (Callahan and Gandara 3).
The Bilingual Education Act (BEA) have become a major initiative in the implementation of other languages as a medium of instruction. This was mandated to give immigrants an opportunity to learn using their native language. It was amended in 1988 to adapt to the contemporary times (Crawford, 1999). Despite this legislation's efforts current policies seemed to have deviated from its initiative. The No Child Left Behind Act have put the bilingual education system in jeopardy through its provisions that negate existing elements of the Bilingual Education Act (BEA) (Katz 44).
Certain countries with majority English speakers have embraced bilingualism like Canada and Wales with the U.S. being one of the few monolingual countries in developed countries. The primary determinant of whether linguistic diversity will be a plus or disadvantage is how different communities within that society embrace the element of the organization into social and political groups. The aim is to accommodate language diversity in their society (Callahan and Gandara 16). Increased language diversity enhances cohesion within the community and helps different people to appreciate cultures from other people. Unfortunately, language policies adopted by strategists in the US have historically been framed to reflect the dominant values of American society; the embrace of English speaking. Various legislations can explain this at federal and state level that can be interpreted as favoring English as the principal modality of instruction in public schools. The dominant English speakers also control economic spheres of the country, thus, a factor that qualifies English as the official economic language. Despite the fact that commerce and trade in the US take place in a multilingual environment, English remains a preferred language. The consequence of this is the argument made by the opponents of bilingual education, which denotes that children need to learn English to enable them to excel in their careers.
Benefits of Bilingual Education System
A correctly applied Bilingual Educational system can give the country a lot of benefits. This is embedded in the diversity that this could provide in the nation's existing culture. Although some people see this as a threat to national identity, this can actually be used to promote the English language. People have noted the discrimination being experienced by other people in the United States because of their linguistic origin. This is implied in the various legislations which aim to promote the English language while preventing the standard use of others. People are encouraged to be bilingual by learning America's majority language. On the other hand, others are being prevented for instruction use. This creates a double standard. This may actually violate some rights as implied in the constitution of the United States.
Basic Linguistic Human Rights of Children
Every child is entitled to “basic linguistic human rights” in the educational system with these rights playing a vital role in preserving children’s native language and culture (Waters 296). The attacks on bilingual education in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts show that authorities do not acknowledge English as a second language (ESL). The failure to recognize ESL underscores the fact that state governments and to some extent, the federal government ignore the linguistic rights of immigrant children to learn their native languages. Linguistic minorities have the right to be protected by their government against any real or perceived attack of their language by the linguistic majorities. This concerns the case of the U.S. English language. Bilingual education guarantees the fundamental linguistic human rights of minorities through education, thus making language a resource rather than a problem. The pressure that compels minorities to choose between one’s native language and majority language (English) while both can be achieved through bilingual education is an indication of discriminatory tendencies. When the option of a native and a majority language is presented to a minority, the obvious choice will be English. The point is that such a decision does not rely on the freewill of the person in question but comes as an option for survival in an English dominant economy. The result is that the minority has no other optimal choice rather than abandoning one of the essential facets of maintaining one’s culture, which is the first language. Contrary to some beliefs, promotion of other culture through linguistic aims is not detrimental to the usage of English as the majority language. In fact, it should fuel its growth and influence.
Cultural Diversity through Language
Through the cultural diversity that can be promoted by the usage of other languages as medium of instruction, people could learn and become more competent. Bilingual Education could promote fluency in two or more language. This means that the influence of the English language would grow as long as it is included in the curriculum. People would also have the opportunity to learn more about other cultures through their native tongue.
Current Status of Bilingual Education
The status of Bilingual Education would depend on the country's political leaders. They could choose to modify existing laws to promote language diversity. This should not only be focused on the usage of English. The benefits can only be achieved through proper implementation.
At this level in the discussion, it is quite important to factor the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 in the analysis. The law puts the future of bilingual education in jeopardy because its provisions negated the elements captured in the Bilingual Education Act (BEA) (Katz 44). BEA had supported the education of English language learners (ELL) for more than three decades and was instrumental in funding school districts to initiate bilingual education programs. However, the act was repealed when NCLB came into effect in 2002. Though BEA did not clearly make bilingual education official in American education system, analysts perceived it as a major victory for the bilingual community. The rationale was its support for the use of children’s home language for instructing bilingual students in preparation to transit to English classes. BEA provided the framework necessary for developing bilingual education programs with the aim of attaining bilingual proficiency rather than just English acquisition for linguistic minorities. All these developments have now been rendered obsolete as NCLB Act replaces “bilingual” with “English language acquisition”, meaning that bilingual programs are being replaced with English-only programs. Moreover, there is no mention of primary language instruction. The Law reverses all the little gains made through the civil right struggles and is moving the country in the direction of “English monolingualism” (Katz 44-46). These are the reasons why current legislations should be modified. It should adapt to the present time and should answer all the issues discussed above.
Saving Bilingual Education
Subsequent to the highly charged and precarious political position that bilingual education finds itself in, it is has been left to bilingual educators to play a leading role in saving bilingual education programs for the sake of immigrant students (Téllez and Varghese 128). The fact that bilingual education is under attack from all spheres, particularly the political sphere, bilingual educators need to come up with strategies essential for saving the bilingual programs. The first strategy is to learn the political landscape of the locality in which one’s school/district is stationed. Such a step can assist in building local alliances that can in turn facilitate lobbying. Another strategy is to carry out intensive research on bilingual education by gathering longitudinal data useful in showing the positive consequences of the program in student’s academic performance. However, bilingual educators should remain professional, calm and avoid exhibiting emotions when debating with the opponents of bilingualism.
Bilingual education keeps attracting a heated debate at both the national and state level. The political class moves towards making the United States an English monolingual nation in spite of the country priding itself as “home of immigrants” or a “boiling pot of culture”. These phrases acknowledge the existence of a multilingual society composed of communities with diverse languages. In such a society, bilingualism would work better if all communities in the society appreciate the attribute of linguistic diversity. Unfortunately, the public discourse guiding bilingual education debate has been dominated by the linguistic majorities who are English speakers besides being the controllers of the market economy. The resultant effect is the flourishing of language policies appearing to be discriminatory to linguistic minorities.
The current status of Bilingual Education should be modified in order to address pressing issues. This could start with the politicians who could implement legislations that can be used to level the playing field in terms of bilingualism and give opportunities for other languages. Regardless if the government favor Bilingual Education or not, it is up to the educators to promote it. By doing this, its status could be improved and its usage as a medium of instruction can be encouraged.