CHICAGO, Oct. 4—If the huge public school system in Chicago had to follow the Federal Government’s proposed regulations on bilingual education, it would mean creating questionnaires and training interviewers in 139 languages just to find out which youngsters are entitled to such instruction.
The system has, for example, some children of the mountain people of Laos, who speak Hmong, a tongue without an alphabet that was written in Latin characters for the first time only a decade ago.
Nevertheless, in every instance in which there are enough students to qualify for a program, Chicago and every other school district in the country would have to instruct the children in their native languages, providing the teachers and materials, until the students became sufficiently enough in English to join the regular program. Any other approach would be illegal under the proposed regulations, unless a district obtained a specific waiver from the Secretary of Education.
A Controversial Issue
During a series of hearings on the proposed regulations in six cities three weeks ago, no issue surrounding bilingual education provoked more controversy than the propriety of the Government’s endorsement of one approach over all others.
The regulation ”seeks to tell schools everywhere how and what they must teach students,” said Emlyn I. Griffith, a lawyer from Rome, N.Y. ”We can scarcely imagine a more serious threat to our diverse educational system.” Mr. Griffith is president of the National Association of State Boards of Education and a member of the New York State Board of Regents.
The House of Representatives has adopted, by a vote of 213 to 194, an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have forbidden the Department of Education to require ”a state or local education agency … to address the educational needs of students of limited English-speaking ability by a program other than one of intensive instruction in English.”
It remains to be seen whether the Senate will attach a similar rider to its version of the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Resources.
Options Are Wanted
Most critics who testified at the hearings against requiring the form of bilingual education proposed by the Department of Education were not opposed to the idea of giving special consideration to students who speak a primary language other than English. What they requested, however, was the option of choosing among approaches.
The usual alternative offered to the Federal proposal is the practice of putting non-English-speaking students into regular classes while giving them intensive instruction in the rudiments of the language daily through a program known as ”English as a Second Language.”
Advocates of that program maintain that most students make such a rapid transition to English that it is unnecessary to teach the regular subjects in their native language.
But supporters of the federally endorsed bilingual approach say that most students are bound to fall behind during the period they are learning English.
”There can be no argument that the failure to teach children in a language they understand excludes these children from meaningful participation in the educational program,” said M.D. Taracido, president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. of New York City.