DALLAS—The three Democratic presidential hopefuls defended bilingual education
Wednesday night and criticized a proposal to amend the Constitution to proclaim English as the nation’s official language.
Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado said during the League of Women Voters debate, “Thomas Jefferson and others would roll over in their graves at the thought” of the amendment sought by Sen. Walter D. Huddleston, D-Ky.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said it would reinforce “a narrow and myopic view of what makes America great.”
And Walter F. Mondale said critics of bilingual education are ignorant of how it works.
“We must see the learning of more than one language as therapy for our nation, and not a threat to our nation,” said Jackson. “We are perhaps the only industrialized democracy who only has basically one language.”
“Most people of the world are black, are brown, are yellow, poor, non-Christian and don’t speak English,” Jackson said. “Anyone that would suggest that we confine ourselves to one language and one religion has too limited a view to engage in national leadership of our nation.”
Hart said, “I am strongly supportive of efforts to finance bilingual, bicultural education in this country. … I think we ought to invite people in and I think we ought to keep cultures alive, particularly the Hispanic culture, which has made such a contribution to this nation.”
Poor children from Hispanic areas of Colorado “have tremendous problems and they often never overcome them” if they are thrust into English-speaking classrooms in kindergarten or first grade, said Hart.
“The point of biingual, bicultural education is to bridge that gap,” he said.
Mondale, boasting that he was “one of the first sponsors” of federal aid for bilingual education, said it allows a school to begin educating a child “on the first day, speaking in that child’s language. And one of the first subjects taught to that child is English.”
“If it’s taught properly, that child will learn English much more quickly than if the teacher is unable to communicate with the child,” he said.
President Reagan has asked Congress to give school districts support for English-immersion classes _ where only English is taught but with special help for non-English speaking children _ as well as bilingual instruction. Schools now must teach children in both languages if they want federal aid.
Educators have been split on whether the bilingual instruction method produces better results than immersion.