Bilingual educators from across the country meeting in Chicago sharply criticized U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett Wednesday, calling him “inflexible,” his proposals “insidious” and his approach to bilingual education “hypocritical.” Mayor Harold Washington also criticized Bennett in a keynote address at the National Association for Bilingual Education Conference in the Palmer House. In the fall Bennett criticized the extensive use of native-language instruction in bilingual programs and called for more English. In calling for a change of direction, Bennett said: “After 17 years and $1.7 billion, we have no evidence that bilingual education works.”

“In calling for flexibility (to use little or no native-language instruction), Bennett is calling for any kind of program,” said Josue Gonzalez, former director of federal bilingual programs under President Jimmy Carter and currently director of the Chicago Board of Education’s bureau of resource development. “That is a setup,” Gonzalez said. He pointed out that poorly thought- out programs could be ineffective and accused Bennett of “setting children up for failure.” Gonzalez moderated a panel held to “set the record straight on bilingual education” at the conference, which has attracted more than 5,000 bilingual teachers and experts in linguistics. Bilingual education is a controversial method of teaching in two languages, English and the pupil’s native language. A student receives intensive classes in English, but his own language is used to keep him from falling behind in other subjects. In his keynote speech, Washington told the delegates: “I feel a tremendous ire at Bennett, who looks through the glass dimly and darkly. We can solve the problems with bilingual education if we do not treat it as a social problem but as a mark of high cultural sophistication. . . . Bilingualism is in a sense Americanism.” Gene Chavez, president of the association, said that “too often bilingual programs are misunderstood and misrepresented. We want to show what works.” Bennett was invited to debate his position at the conference, but declined, offering instead to send the current director of bilingual education, Carol Pendas-Whitten. Pendas-Whitten declined to attend the convention when leaders offered only to let her be a guest, said an aide, Jane Glickman, “because she wanted to come and give the department’s point of view. We are not against native- language instruction. There is absolutely no hostility.”

Comments are closed.