WASHINGTON—President Reagan unleashed an extemporaneous attack Monday on government programs to encourage bilingual education as a misguided attempt to preserve immigrants’ native languages instead of helping them learn English.
In a speech to the National League of Cities, Reagan cited a Washington suburb as an example of a federal program setting unrealistic standards for local communities.
“In Fairfax County, Va., for example, students come from 50 different language backgrounds, 15 of which are spoken by more than 20 students,” Reagan said. “Were it able to follow the former HHS (Health and Human Services) guidelines, the county would incur the expense of sponsoring bilingual programs in 15 different languages, including Urdu, Hindi and Laotian.”
Then, departing from his text, the president added, “Now, bilingual education — there is a need, but there is also a purpose that has been distorted again at the federal level.
“Where there are predominantly students speaking a foreign language at home, coming to school and being taught English, and they fall behind or are unable to keep up in some subjects because of the lack of knowledge of the language, I think it is proper that we have teachers equipped who can get at them in their own language and understand why it is they don’t get the answer to the problem and help them in that way.”
“But it is absolutely wrong,” he added, “and against American concept to have a bilingual education program that is now openly, admittedly dedicated to preserving their native language and never getting them adequate in English so they can go out into the job market and participate.”
One of the new administration’s first moves in its promised war against federal regulation was the withdrawal of the new bilingual education rules.