If good intentions were enough to ensure success, bilingual education would be one of the crowning jewels of the public education system.
In some states, particularly those on the Mexican border, many students speak little or no English when they enroll in school. Bilingual programs teach them basic subjects in their native tongue while they learn the new language.
By the time they graduate from high school, according to the theory, they not only should be proficient in English, they should be as advanced as other students in subjects such as math, science and history.
But, as a practical matter, many people believe bilingual education has failed — and its sharpest critics, in many cases, include parents of the very children it was designed to help. For the most part, they believe
‘total immersion’ into the new language would result in children learning English more quickly — and it would do so without, in the long run,
limiting their mastery of other subjects.
Several polls have shown strong Hispanic opposition to bilingual education.
Atlantic Monthly reports, for example, that a Center for Equal Opportunity survey found ‘a strong majority (of Hispanic parents) favored learning English as the first order of business for their children, considering it more important than learning other subjects.’
That’s why California overwhelmingly passed an initiative two years ago to replace long-term bilingual education with a one-year immersion program.
It’s why voters in Arizona, a state in which 25 percent of all students speak a language other than English at home, are considering a similar ballot measure this fall.
Chances are, the Arizona proposition will pass. One poll shows 70 percent in favor and only 22 percent opposed.
If that happens, other states with bilingual programs may begin to confront the issue.
A century ago, when immigrants were pouring into the United States from abroad, most of them quickly learned English and went on to become useful,
productive citizens of their chosen new land.
Everyone wants the best for all children, including the little ones whose families speak Spanish. But to be successful, in school and in the working world, they have to master English in this country. There is considerable evidence to believe that is best accomplished by learning the language sooner rather than later.