Within the past month, the Orange County School Board held its first bilingual, English-Spanish, meeting. And next year, all Florida schools may be required to provide bilingual teachers for all students when there are more than 15 who speak the same language. The latter results directly, Sentinel columnist Myriam Marquez wrote recently, from a decision taken by the Florida Board of Education, which opted for this course of action rather than risk being sued by the League of United Latin American Citizens.
So such developments, as well as those they will inevitably trigger, are similarly arrived at under the heavy boot of political expediency. You have to wonder, then, whether the developments will prove in the long run to have been as positive as their proponents anticipate, or merely illusory.
No one who has had to make a go of it in a country whose native tongue is other than his own can fail to sympathize with those who must do so now, whatever their linguistic background. Not being fluent in the language is maddening, wreaks havoc on self-esteem and, for the student, vastly exacerbates the frustration of trying to cope with an already arduous learning process. I have felt the sting of this painful reality myself while working in Paris.
Yet, in this melting pot that is America, has it not always been thus – despite a fashionable new mode of thinking that claims we are no longer that melting pot?
This question must arise, then: Why today’s hue and cry for curricula to be taught in Spanish? Spanish is not the language of the land, English is. Moreover, never before, to my knowledge, has such a demand been made by any ethnic group. However reluctantly, new arrivals for more than a century have accepted the idea you must master the English language if you are to be successful in the United States.
As Marquez rightly points out, it is only natural for students to gravitate to those who speak the same language. We see this over and over at Valencia Community College, where I teach. For the most part, Spanish-speaking students keep to themselves, traveling in clusters, rarely expanding their horizons, either by admitting non-Spanish-speaking students into the group or by venturing off on their own into the English-speaking community. Moreover, most Spanish-speaking students who live with their families also speak only Spanish at home. Thus, the classroom has evolved into a primary setting, in some instances the only one, for developing their English-speaking capabilities.
And so, are we doing Spanish-speaking students any favor by in effect providing them with yet another avenue for putting off the day when they must at last come to grips with mastering English?
I believe quite the contrary. As with most shortcuts, this one will finish by hurting the very people it is intended to help. Why? Because it smacks too closely of vintage buy now/pay later mentality, and it will prove the perfect prescription for locking Spanish-speaking citizens out of America’s economic mainstream.