For nearly three decades now, some of the most powerful politicians, nationally syndicated columnists and mainstream magazines have relished beating up on bilingual education.
In this election year, that ever-abused scapegoat is again being attacked by every Republican politico worth his bile.
Why even bilingualism itself, the mere use of two languages, is somehow seen as suspect. In some reactionary quarters, to simply speak Spanish now is viewed as a subversive act.
The depths of ignorant bigotry to which politicos and pundits will stoop in their attacks against bilingual education and bilingualism are truly profound. In the March 1 Express-News, syndicated columnist Don Feder ends his twisted tirade of fractured facts and fallacies with this astonishing statement:
“If not to preserve our national unity, for the damage it does to Hispanic children, bilingualism must die.”
I suppose it never occurred to Feder and his like-minded fellows that it was bilinguals who advanced civilization throughout human history. It has always been and still is bilinguals who make peace, trade, scientific progress and global communications possible. A nation without bilinguals would be in a sorry state.
No Hispanic leader has ever advocated, as Feder implies, that Hispanic children not learn English. Quite the contrary. For more than three decades Hispanic leaders have worked to bring them the blessings of bilingualism, the ability to function in both English and Spanish.
Far from imprisoning Hispanic children, as Feder claims, bilingualism is a great liberating and empowering force for them.
There are numerous advantages for any child to be bilingual; this is especially true for Hispanic children. As it is for all students, bilingualism enhances future career opportunities and options for Hispanic students, especially in such vital, lucrative fields as science, commerce, communications, medicine, government and law, among others.
Bilingualism also helps maintain Hispanic family values. Bilingual children can communicate across generations and linguistic borders with their grandparents and every other member of their extended family so valued among Hispanics.
Bilingual Hispanic children also have two entire worlds of literature, cinema, song and countless other cultural gifts of language open to them. It is the monolingual child who is imprisoned in a cultural-linguistic ghetto, not the bilingual one.
Bilingual children and adults have always served as messengers of understanding between the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities in our nation and throughout the Americans. Far from being a source of division, as Feder contends, bilingualism makes communication, comprehension and, thus, unity possible.
Bilingual education critics are masters of misinformation. Feder states that students are taught in English a mere 10 percent of the time. In fact, the use of English keeps increasing in bilingual programs until it is the predominant language of instruction. That’s what is meant by the transitional bilingual education.
Feder also blatantly states that bilingual education is “the principal reason for the depressing Hispanic dropout rate. . . .”
My experience working with dropouts and all the research done on the problem contradicts Feder. In fact, most Hispanic dropouts have never participated in bilingual programs. Students who went through bilingual education are less prone to dropout than those who did not.
Bilingual education critics have always countered that all-English “sink or swim” immersion programs teach English better and faster and thus bring more academic success.
More recent research, the most comprehensive national study ever done on bilingual education, has concluded just the opposite: Students taught first in their native language do better academically than those immersed quickly in English.
Unlike previous studies, two George Mason University professors were able to isolate such factors as family background that contribute to academic performance.
They also followed students through eight to 12 years of schooling and discovered that students who spent more years in native language instruction scored higher on standardized tests than those who were immersed in English only.
Still Feder and his ilk dare to speak of “darker motives at work” when attacking bilingual education and bilingualism, as if the browning of America were some kind of subversive plot.
Julio Noboa is an educational anthropologist and free-lance writer. To leave a message for him call Express Line at 554-0500 and punch 4458.