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Put English Back into Bilingual Education

By Charles King

An editorial a little while ago in The Rocky Mountain News stated that “the unambiguous goal of bilingual education should be to help everybody learn English as quickly and as fluently as possible. It should not be a native-language maintenance program.” Right on.

But Rita Montero, Denver Public Schools board member, disagrees; she wants to continue “transitional bilingual education” programs despite their track record of dismal failure.

Has it ever occurred to Montero and other advocates of “transitional bilingual education” (i.e. keeping a child in Spanish-only classes for their entire school careers) that English is our language here, just as Spanish is in Mexico and Japanese is in Japan?

Or that the preservation of American national unity should be of real concern to all of us, including and even especially to immigrants and their children?

Or that just as new immigrants from Mexico justifiably have pride in their native language, Spanish, so should English-speaking Americans also be proud of their own language and culture, English and American culture?

Rita Montero and multicultural ideologues want non-immigrant Americans to be humble, to be quiet, about their culture while multiculturalists are paid to pontificate in our schools and universities on the glories of Hispanic and other minority cultures.

Has it ever occurred to her that if our schools are to transmit knowledge efficiently to students, then using one medium of communication is indispensable?

Or that it makes better sense for immigrants here (the vast minority) to learn English than for American citizens (the vast majority) to learn Spanish or Chinese?

Not that learning a foreign language is not culturally enriching for the individual. As a former professor of Spanish and one who is not only bilingual but bicultural I know that learning a 2nd language is highly enriching. What I object to is the teaching of Spanish (or any other of the over 300 non-English languages spoken in the United States) before students learn English, in transitional bilingual education classes up to seven years, as some so-called “experts” advocate.

Ironically, Rita Montero is, as are most educrats (most of them monolingual) totally out of step with the majority of Hispanic parents. A survey of 600 randomly selected Hispanic parents of school-age children conducted during July and August of this year in five metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angles, Miami, San Antonio, and Houston) shows that 51 percent of the parents considered learning to read, write, and speak English “to be the most important among the five educational goals presented.” The other goals in the survey were: 2) “Learning academic subjects like math, history, science”; 3) “Learning to read, write, and speak Spanish;” 4) “Learning about Hispanic culture”; and 5) “Learning extras like music, arts, and sports.”

According to the Center for Equal Opportunity, which commissioned the survey, “Learning English was judged to be much more important than learning other academic subjects, including math, history, and science (23.3%)..Only 11 percent of all respondents designated learning to read, write, and speak Spanish as the most important goal (versus 51 percent for English), distantly followed by only 4.3 percent who think the top priority should be learning about Hispanic culture.”

A giant fraud perpetrated in recent years upon schools is that non-English speaking children should be taught first in their native language for effective learning to take place. Linda Chavez, President of the Center for Equal Opportunity, points out that most methodologically sound studies, “show that teaching a child in his or her native language is largely ineffective.”

Though limited-English-proficient (LEP) children should, indeed, must be given all the special help they need to learn English, most of them are not getting that helpat just the optimal time for learning a second language.

Charles King is a CU professor emeritus of Spanish, a former editor of The Modern Language Journal, and a Senior Fellow of the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank located in Golden, Colorado.

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