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In Focus: Bilingualism Essay

Bilingual Education simply put is education in two languages. But this is not as easy or as simple as it sounds. Bilingual education has been a disputed by many all over the world, it has been and continuous to be a constant point of argument in debates and speeches. Political, educational and social differences arise whenever bilingual education or bilingualism is mentioned.

Both proponents and oppositionist of Bilingual Education will present legitimate arguments when it comes to proving their points, yet one thing is clear, it is the children, in the long run that suffers from this constant battle with regards to their education and the implemented education system of the country they are residing in.

In the United States, Bilingual Education was introduced in the US primarily to aid non-English speaking students, generally the Spanish-speaking learners, who were falling behind in their academics, and dropping out of school at alarming rates, and with the growing number of immigrants coming in to the country and their children going into the school system, the government can no longer ignore this predicament.

It was then that The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 was passed, providing federal funding to encourage local school districts to try approaches in integrating primary language instruction in the schools. With the prompting of the federal government, most states followed suite and enacted bilingual laws of their own and legalizing the use of foreign language in the classroom.

Not long after, the Supreme Court acknowledged that leaving LEP students to “sink or swim” in English-only classrooms made “a mockery of public education” which, according to existing laws must be made equally available to all students, English speaking or not. The court’s verdict in the milestone Lau v. Nichols case required schools to take “affirmative steps” to prevail over speech barriers hampering the children’s right to public education. Congress, on its hand, immediately sanctioned this principle in the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974.

Although, none of the Bilingual Education Act or victory of the Lau v Nichols case afforded the education system a particular method in implementing this act, it only dictates that educational programs be executed to offer equal opportunities for LEP students, including research based programs designed by professionals to aid them, adequate resources in the form of personnel and materials, and reviews and evaluation of standards and procedures of the programs that was put into effect and the obligation to modify and improve any program that fails in its function (History of Bilingual Education).

Both the bilingual and English-only programs thrived after this law’s passage. But in 1998, California residents rejected bilingual education, approving a mandate for English-only instruction known as Proposition 227. Throughout the campaign, evidence that favors bilingual education has been belittled or ignored, while negative portrayals are accepted without question. What’s driving this strange debate in which normal standards of proof no longer apply? (Crawford. ) A total 61% of the voting population agreed to this mandate. Resulting from that vote, two major points can be derived.

The first is that, it is not the bilingual education per se that the voters are against but an anti-immigrant sentiment these voters carry that made this campaign, and the notion that bilingual education equips these new migrants with power. Another is that, equipped with a different plan, advocates of bilingual education could have beaten back the attack, a better and concise and concrete evidence on the use of bilingual education and its benefits and a counter attack against instigation that migrant citizens will take over the country.

In this argument there is more at stake than the need to deny responsibility for a terrible defeat. It is a sad that it seems that this proposition centers not around the matter of practical applications of learning skills in the English speaking setting of the US, but rather about attaching ‘cultural badges’ to certain ethnic groups. The point of these English only proponents states that if a South-American child is educated bilingually then that child will always remain a bilingual South American instead of being assimilated into the larger US makeup.

As always, it seems that the point to be made is that these people will be pre-judged negatively because of their ethnic bilingual skills instead of actually being judged as well-rounded individuals because of these skills. Once more, the dispute contains racial and cultural overtones and is not founded on actual pragmatic education interpretation.

It is also sad to realize that the repercussions of this disagreement extend well beyond California; activism along the anti-bilingualism is spreading to other states, the state of Arizona for example already passed their own anti-bilingual education act, its running to the school districts and the school themselves. No one will argue that matters of demographic changes — immigration, race, traditions, and language have drawn the attention, even polarized US Citizens even till now.

In 1998 according to the California Department of Education, the enrollment of limited-English-proficient (LEP) student have more than doubled over the past decade, rising to 1. 4 million, and public schools have become a point of disquiet; English learners now represent a quarter of California’s K-12 students and a third of those entering the first grade. According to the California Department of Finance, this notable growth is not only due to the growing immigrants but also to greater births in language-minority societies.

Between 1990 and 1996, nine out of ten of new Californians were either Latinos or Asians, even as the population grew by 2. 6 million. Latinos held 29% and Asians 11% of the state residents, respectively, while 7% were African Americans and non-Hispanic whites cover 53%. Forthcoming minority status, many white Californians feel vulnerable by the imminent shift in political power and indignant about paying taxes to advantage “other” people’s children (Schrag). Laurie Olsen a leader of the No to proposition 227 campaign, argues that cultural factors were key to the initiative’s victory.

From the beginning, she informed, opinion research revealed “a reservoir of anger, distrust, and even hate focused on bilingual education, bilingual educators, and immigrants –particularly Spanish-speaking immigrants” (Olsen p. 4). Proposition 227 fruitfully exploited “a set of fears and beliefs of a voting California, unrepresentative of the state — whiter, older, only 15% with children in public schools” (p. 7). A majority of this electorate expressed “the sense of Spanish ruining this country, the sense of our nation in threat.

The sense that upholding English as the language of this nation is a stance of protecting a way of life–this outweighed every argument we could wage to try to defeat 227. This is what we were up against and still are” (p. 8). Such minds were closed to considering the case for bilingual education, no argument could win Olsen concludes. “It’s not just that they don’t understand it — they don’t like it” (p. 9). Even with this propagation in effect, schools still practice bilingual education provided that accomplish waivers were submitted, thereby still being able to help the ELLs.

But in 2001, the Bilingual Education Act however, was terminated by the passage of a new federal education policy, No Child Left Behind. This law provides no support for native language learning, but rather accentuated responsibility in the English language only, and gives the directive that all students, including ELLs, are to be given yearly examinations in English. NCLB is a controversial United States federal law (Act of Congress) that reauthorized a number of federal programs aimed at recovering the performance of U.

S. primary and secondary schools by raising the standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools; it also aims to provide parents with more flexibility in choosing schools for their children. NCLB does not assert a national achievement standard; standards are set by each individual state. The Act also requires that the schools distribute the name, home phone number and address of every student enrolled to military recruiters, unless the student (or the student’s parent) specifically opts out.

The usefulness and appeal of NCLB’s procedures are fiercely debated. A key criticism asserts that NCLB could reduce effective instruction and student learning because it may cause states to lower achievement goals and stimulate teachers “to teach to the test. ” Principal supportive claims that systematic testing provides statistics that will shed light on which schools are not performing effectively, teaching basic skills, so that intercession can be made to cut the achievement gap for disadvantaged and disabled students, including those in ELLs.

Although the new Congress is considering major revisions in this law, as it is up for reauthorization. A group of 50 Republican senators and representatives introduced legislation to provide the states a greater freedom from NCLB’s controls and punishment. Many are hoping that revisions with this law will adhere to the actual needs of the current education system without a hefty consideration for politicking and will take into consideration the students who will be affected by the implementation of laws regarding school policies.

It can be considered that California along with other US States is increasingly becoming multilingual and multicultural, due to the advent of immigrants coming from all over the world and an increase in the population of Hispanics. To prove this, Government agencies, public utilities, candidates for election, and elected officials publish documents, websites and other information drive in several languages, the City of Anaheim even distributes their Water Quality Report and other documents in English and Spanish, accepting the fact that many Hispanics reside in their area.

Diversity in culture, ethnic background propels that changes be made in order to adapt to the ever changing spectra of environment around the US. The general citizenry must accept that the US is not limited to Americans alone anymore, Hispanics, Indians, even Chinese and Filipinos, all converge and settle in the US, particularly in the State of California, even in Texas and Nevada. It should be realized that these ‘foreigners’ are here to stay, and in order for the nation to continue to grow, these originally non-English speaking individuals need to be assimilated into the system.

Their needs should also be met, and their basic human right be respected, even if it means going beyond tradition and being more open minded, Americans must also understand that even these very people, these foreigners, assimilate or try to assimilate themselves into the system. In educational systems it is fair to note that, understanding is a key factor in order to acquire knowledge and to understand, you have to understand the spoken language, without this understanding, no knowledge can be acquired, “We acquire language by understanding messages, by obtaining comprehensible input” (Krashen p.

3). It is with this point that native language lessons are founded upon, the provide the students with two rudiments, one is that the subject matter is delivered via a comprehensible media, they can easily understand and support for primary literacy, transfers in to the second language. For instance, the LEP student with a good scholastic background in the native language and math would, logically, gain more knowledge of math and attain more English in a conventional math class taught in English than a inadequately prepared LEP student.

This example is obvious, and this is exactly why it is an influential argument. He provides examples and advice to address the critics within our own society. The so called “The Paris Argument” is a simple explanation to an otherwise complex theory. If you were to on a job in Paris, wouldn’t it be helpful if you would look for important information regarding Paris or any ideas or concerns for Paris in your language prior to your arrival to assist with your adjustment to French society?

If your answer is yes, then you essentially agree with the values underlying bilingual education. It is with this point that proponents of Bilingualism base their arguments, that in order for one to get fully assimilated into the regular system, one must learn via their own directive the points of the matter. Bilingual Education seeks not replace English as the primary language of America, but seeks to help non-English speakers to learn English without sacrificing their academics.

Owing to a complicated web of historical and political influences, languages and dialects are generally discredited as second-rate and inherently uneducated (Baugh 303). These outlooks are promoted in the media and develop negative stereotypes (Johnson; Santa Ana). “A set of beliefs about the relation of a language to the history of the people,” the Great Tradition is usually associated with a national language in order to support its symbolic status (Spolsky p. 26).

From this stance, it might seem rational to associate a specific language to economic and political success. In the psyche of the public, the Great Tradition logically justifies the prevalence and dominance of one language above others, generating an ideologically based standard dialect/language. Spolsky affirms that “standard language is what educators deem as appropriate; the standard is more acceptable because it is more widely spoken; all languages are equally valuable; superiority is established by the elite to maintain power” (p. 27).

Linguistic solidarity among the influential ascertain continued access to power structures for a chosen group while concurrently limiting access for others; this is the establishment of ideology. Basically, language planning can be reduced to “an extension of social policy aimed at behavior modification” (Williams p. 1). In line with this modification thesis, Spolsky contends that “the beliefs that some variety of language is better than others and that it is possible to influence speakers to select the better variety are fundamental to language management” (p. 217).

It is with this basis that critics of bilingual education, insists that only one language should be adapted by the Americans and that is the English language, in his essay, publish by the Hoover Press, Duigan noted that proficiency in the language of America is a price that any immigrant wanting to stay in America should want to pay and so should their children. Recently, the supposition that minority languages pose a threat to the English language in the United States and that bilingual education add to this threat has gained momentum in popular media and even within the U. S.

Congress, instilling fear in the conscience of the general public, but it is wise to dispel this notion that the English language is in danger. It is more apt to say that these arguments are based more on the fear of increased migrants than on thorough examination of the facts. English is the first language of majority of Americans, and continues to be so and it can be surmised that these new US immigrant arrivals are eager to learn English, to enable themselves to assimilate within the community at the soonest possible time. It is even apt to say that the minority languages are the ones in that are in danger (Krashen).

Obvious parallels have been drawn between the extinction of languages and the extinction of plants and animals. In all probability, like the majority of creatures in natural history, the majority of languages in human history have passed from the scene, they have fallen victim to predators, changing environments, or more successful competitors (Crawford). This is an alarming thought, not only because of healthier world trade, but educationally because of the recognized connection between primary language and the attainment of academic English.

Children who are transitioned too quickly to English with little or no primary language support will be disadvantaged in the long run. Another point of argument from the critics is that bilingual education offers no improvement or actual benefits with the students that are enrolled via these programs, as was evident with the results of the increased test scores of students in Oceanside, California after the passing of proposition 277 in Aug of 2000.

Although, the recent researches proves that the increase in test scores of students cannot be solely attributed to the removal of bilingual education in the school system. With many variables commencing at once, Kenji Hakuta, a professor of education at Stanford University, disputes that few conclusions about bilingual education could be drawn from the results of said exams, other than that “the numbers didn’t turn negative,” as many had dreaded.

Professor Hakuta said that undeniably, given a new accent on examinations statewide, some districts are obviously teaching to the exams, scores are up across the board in almost all grades, He said that districts like Oceanside were posting such considerable gains, in part, because their previous scores had been so awfully low — and continue to be so (Steinberg). Studies over the past two decades has affirmed that, despite manifestations, it takes children a significant amount of time to achieve full proficiency in a second language.

Oftentimes, children quickly learn conversational English commonly used in playgrounds and informal locale, but as a rule they will need more than a few years to obtain the cognitively challenging, de-contextualized speech patterns used in educational pursuits (Collier & Thomas). A good bilingual education program will provide important content information to students, in order to facilitate comprehension, not only in their own language but in English as well. Bilingual education is neither a universal panacea for language planners, nor is it effective purely due to dual language classroom approaches, as recent research reveals.

Such research locates the political nature of bilingual education, not only at the level of policy making, but also in qualitative research in classrooms (Baker). Bilingual education programs that stress a steady shift to English and offer native language lessons in declining amounts over time offer continuity in the student’s cognitive growth and lay the groundwork for academic triumph in the second language. In difference, English-only approaches and quick-exit bilingual programs can disrupt that development at a critical stage resulting to damaging effects on accomplishments (Cummins).

It will be noted that the critics of bilingual education made the mistake of putting too much weight with the individual programs implemented by different school districts and states, ignoring the general idea of what bilingual education is and what and who it really is for. When programs use poor instructional media like parallel interpretation, this is bad practice; if you place an English speaking individual because of his foreign sounding surname in an English Proficiency Program that surmounts to awful practice (Krashen).

However, despite the fact that these presets happen in bilingual education, these are not reflections of bilingual education; rather they are reflections of those particular programs, and analysis would entail a modification and improvement of said programs. These days’ teachers and school administrators make an attempt to correspond with parents who limited understanding of the English language, by sending correspondence and school information to them in their native languages and by utilizing interpreters whenever necessary for parent-teacher conferences.

Helping the parents understand the undertakings of the schools and advocating parent participation in school activities are also by-products of bilingual education. In all these conducts, it is safe to surmise that bilingual education has done some good, but even with these instances of bilingual education doing a good job, it can do so much better. In order for a Bilingual Education program to progress, it must provide a print-rich setting and encourage primary language reading. They must provide comprehensible input in English and privileged subject matter teaching.

They must also provide subject matter understanding taught through the primary language. Schools should also provide a good number of quality English reading materials in elementary school libraries, and make available native language materials in the schools which are almost non-existent. The recently released report from the National Research Council on “Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children” blames the ongoing political debate over bilingual education for hindering research and evaluation efforts, and thus slowing the pace of reform initiatives (Boals).

A good revamp is required in order for the current flaws in its implementation be corrected and improvements be made to make bilingual programs more effective, then the assaults on bilingual education will be exposed for what they are – baseless criticisms. Works Cited Baker, Colin. Education as a site of language contact. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 23, 95-112. (2003). <http://scholarsportal. info/pdflinks/06001516260022439. pdf> Baugh, John. Beyond ebonies: Real and potential benefits of bilingual programmes in developing countries.

International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 5(6), pp. 303–317. Linguistic pride and racial prejudice. New York: Oxford University Press. Benson, C. (2002). Boals, Timothy “Under attack: The case against bilingual education” a review. Bilingual Research Journal. Summer 1996. <http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_qa3722/is_199607/ai_n8751475/pg_1>. 26 Jan. 2008. Crawford, James. Quality of debate suffers from distortions, stereotypes. San Jose Mercury News 1998 <http://www. humnet. ucla. edu/humnet/linguistics/people/grads/macswan/SJMN27> —.

At war with diversity: US language policy in an age of anxiety. Multilingual Matters Clevedon,2000 <http://ourworld. compuserve. com/homepages/JWCRAWFORD/brj. htm> Collier, Virgnia, P. , & Thomas, W P. How quickly can immigrants become proficient in school English? Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students, 5, p26-39(1989). Cummins, Jim. Bilingual Education and English Immersion: The Ramirez Report in Theoretical Perspective. “Bilingual Research Journal,” 16, p91-104. (1992). Duignan, Peter, J. Bilingual Education: A Critique. Hoover Essays. Hover Inst.

Leland Stanford Junior University <http://www. hoover. org/publications/he/2896386. html? show=essay> History of Bilingual Education. Rethinking Schools Online Vol. 12, no 3 <http://www. rethinkingschools. org/archive/12_03/12_03. shtml> Krashen, Stephen. Under attack: The case against bilingual education. Culver City, CA: Language Education Associates, pp 2-3; 28;108pp Olsen, L. Reflections on the key role of two-way bilingual immersion programs in this Proposition 227 era. Keynote speech, Santa Barbara, CA, June 28. Riehl, Richard. Politics made ‘bilingual’ a dirty word.

News Paper Article The North County Times 13 Oct. 2005 Spolsky, Bernard. Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univeresity Press, 2004. pp26-27;217 Sta Ana, Otto. Tongue Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Children in Public Schools. Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc. 2004 Steinberg, Jacques. Increase in Test Scores Counters Dire Forecasts for Bilingual Ban. News Paper Report. The New York Times. 20 Aug. 2000 Williams, Colin. Language, Law and Politics. Ed. W. John Morgan and S. Livingstone. Law and Opinion in Twentieth-Century Britain and Ireland, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2003, pp. 109-40

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