BEHIND the debate over bilingual education in the public schools lie differing views on cultural and linguistic diversity.

Time and cost are factors too: Many opponents of bilingual education want to move Hispanic, Asian, or Middle Eastern language speaking students into the Anglo mainstream as quickly as possible. However, too sudden an immersion in English studies can be counterproductive by leading to the student’s confusion, deep frustration, alienation, and dropping out.

The issue should not alone be how quickly to absorb non-Anglo speaking youths into the dominant culture. Educational mastery in two languages, native and English, can have special benefits for the student and for the United States as a whole.

In one study, Hispanic students in New Haven, Conn., schools gained in reading and nonverbal logic skills the longer they worked in dual Spanish and English tracks. The diversity of their linguistic experience sharpened their cognitive skills, reported Dr. Kenjii Hakuta, Yale psycholinguist, at a meeting last week of the American Psychological Association in Los Angeles.

A Detroit program for Arabic-speaking youths, whose schoolday is split into English and Arabic halves, has drawn strong support among other ethnic groups, who see an economic advantage in bilingual training.

And bilingual youths may well be a resource for a nation where foreign-language training has begun to languish at the university level.

While mastery of English should remain a goal for all school students, there should be no rush to abandon the benefits of cultural and linguistic pluralism.

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