A Storm Brews Over Bilingual Teaching

Some educators fear that English has been de-emphasized too much among certain minorities. Now the administration has plans for big changes in the program.

The Carter administration is preparing to trim the most controversial segments from a school program in which children who speak little English are instructed in their native languages and cultures.

In what promises to be highly emotional issue in many places, the administration plans to return the federal government’s 10-year-old bilingual-education program to its original concept; preparing youngsters who are deficient in English to take part in an English-speaking society.

Currently, almost 260,000 children in 39 states are learning academic subjects in both English and their native tongues – any of more than 60 langguages and dialects ranging from Cambodian to Yupik. More than 600 million dollars has been spent on the effort.

Different views. Under the present program, young people in some schools are taught primarily in non-English languages even after they become fluent in Engish. Backers of such efforts, especially the Spanish-speaking and the American Indians, say that prolonged education in a mother tongue and a native culture is essential to building ethnic pride. Critics charge that many bilingual programs are more social than educational and threaten the melting-pot concept that the English language should be a unifying force for all Americans.

The bilingual programs are wide-spread in the Southwest and other areas where there are large minority groups who do not speak English. It is likely that in such places, any major changes will be resisted.

The administration proposals, which are being prepared by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, are subject to the President’s approval. The basic goal – gearing children to use English – is described by one official as a target Carter “wants to hone in on.”

The proposal require little new legislation and will be carried out by HEW’s Office of Education, which can deny federal funds to noncomplying school districts. Changes are expected to be in effect by the start of the new school year in September, 1978.

The plan is described by an HEW official as “a middle-of-the-road course.” He adds, “We aren’t ruling out programs for cultural enrichment, but we consider the fundamental purpose should be that kids learn English. If culture is used as a tool to meet that goal, we support it.”

Evidence that the administration backs this goal is seen in its 150-million-dollar-budget proposal for the next fiscal year – 15 million dollars more than the program’s current budget.

The administration is considering limiting students to five years of bilingual instruction at the federal government’s expense.

The cost factor. The plan also discourages use of federal money to train English-speaking children in the Spanish language and Hispanic traditions. That practice has caused has caused bitter divisions in some areas of the Southwest.

Many school districts also are divided over costs involved in the program, particularly at a time of growing pressure to economize. Some bilingual programs were created because school districts wanted them and welcomed the federal money. But dozens more were the result of pressure by HEW’s Office of Civil Rights, which holds that the presence of just one student with a dominant language other than English demands special attention. This requirement has created problems for educators trying to avoid cuts in aid.

The administration plan reflects spreading concern in Washington that the program went astray – without enough control over ways in which the money was spent. Realization of how far the effort veered from the intend of Congress was driven home by a government-sponsored study indicating that nearly 9 of every 10 directors of bilingual projects for Hispanic children keep students in their classes long after the youngsters have learned English.

Burden on indivual. One supporter of bilingual eduation, Representative Albert H. Quie (R-Minn.) says: “There is nothing wrong with people trying to maintain their culture. But they should be in charge of doing it – not the federal government.”

Some experts say that the revisions are needed to keep bilingual education from becoming a means of separating ethnic groups. Gary Orfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana, says that federal money often has financed “expensive, hihgly segregated programs of no proven educational value to children.”

But ethnic studies as part of the bilingual program are staunchly defended by other experts. They argue that the government is not doing enough to build self-esteem among minority Americans. One Hispanic educator, Josue M. Gonzales, of Southern Methodist University, says that the emphasis on mastering. English “helps maintain the outdated melting-pot syndrome which discourages cultural pluralism in American society.”

The broader picutre. A substantial number of educators are convinced that bilingual education is effective far beyond the bounds of learning a language. They believe that instruction in a mother tongue also is important in learning the whole range of subjects, from science to history.

“I can see the program workings,” reports Yolanda Sepko, an elementary-school bilingual teacher in Dallas. “These kids would drop out by the sixth or seventh grade if they weren’t being given a chance now.”

Sepko contrasts her students’ experience with her own as a Spanish-speaking child in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. “When I went to school, we were not allowed to speak Spanish. The first two years were a nightmare.”

Gilman Hebert, who heads a bilingual program in Madawaska, Maine’s predominantly French St. John’s Valley, remembers children being punished for using French on school grounds. Now, he says, “they no longer feel that it is un-American to speak French.” They not only are achieving more in French, but also are doing better in English.

What study shows. A government-financed study by the American Institutes for Research found little difference between progress made by the Hispanics in regular classrooms. In math, those in bilingual programs did better; in English, they did worse.

There was, however, a wide difference in costs. The report showed an average of $1,398 spent on bilingual pupils – $376 more than on students in regular classrooms.

Yet backers of the program claim that advantages far outweight disadvantages. Houston’s bilingual-program director, Raul Munoz Jr., says that the program has improved attendance among Hispanic students and increased their parents’ involvement in school activities.

“The dropout rate for Hispanics was 89 percent before bilingual programs,” Munoz says. “It has dropped significantly. The hard data is difficult to come by until these students complete their education, but the soft data – when the children smile with pride – says the programs are successful.” A Babel of Tongues

In addition to English and Spanish, these languages are used for teaching in federally sponsored programs —

American Indian: Apache, Athabascan, Cahuilla, Cherokee, Choctaw, Cree, Crow, Eelaponkee, Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Keresian, Kiowa, Lacota (Sioux), Mde wa kan pon, Mescalero-Apache, Miccosukee-Seminole, Mohawk, Navajo, Northern Cheyenne, Papago, Passamaquoddy, Piaute, Pima, Seminole-Creek, Tewa, Ute





Eskimo: Aleut, Central Yupik, Gwich’in, Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Sugpiaq, Upper Tanana, Yupik

Filipino-Ilacano: Tagalog

French: French Canadian, Haitian

German: Pennsylvania Dutch






Micronesian: Carolinian, Chamorro, Kusaian, Marchallese, Palauan, Ponapean, Trukese, Ulithian, Woleian, Yapese


Vietnamese Taxation in 4 Languages

Did you ever suspect that the Internal Revenue Service’s forms read like Chinese? This year they do. The IRS has printed its two conventional forms, 1040 and 1040A, in Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish as well as in English. The questions, boxes and lines are all the same – only the languages differ. The foreign-language forms are to be filled out only at IRS taxpayer-assistance offices. Answers then are transferred to English forms by IRS personnel.

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