Bilingual Education is Another Boondoggle

Stephanie Robertson’s June 7th honest appraisal of the results of bilingual education is a refreshing analysis of that politically correct, failed experiment.

Like that atrocity called “new math” (remember that?), mandatory bilingual education is based on the flawed, insulting premise that ordinary, non-English-speaking schoolkids in the past didn’t really learn English (or math) by old-fashioned immersion and rote and repetition.

Gee, I guess those millions of successful Italians, Vietnamese, Poles and others were just kidding when they told us, in English, that they had learned English.

Unfortunately, proponents of expensive, self-serving boondoggle programs such as English as a Second Language have concentrated on only one other language, Spanish, and have thereby displayed the same kind of ethnocentric arrogance that they claim to deplore in others: Spanish is the only “other” language in America.

Such proponents also apparently don’t realize that their denigrating of the learning abilities of native Spanish speakers is insulting and condescending to the very people whom they ostensibly care about: “Well, yeah, the Italians and the Vietnamese and the Latvians learned English without special programs, but they must be, hmmm, smarter than Spanish speakers.” Hey, with friends like that . . .

One of the most consistent arguments in the bilingual/ESL controversy is that the speakers of other languages were first of all literate in their native tongues, whereas many Spanish-speaking students are not literate in either language; ergo, immersion in English won’t work for the illiterate.


When my French-speaking mother, one of 11 orphaned siblings during the Great Depression, went to her first day of school in New Iberia, La., she was informed that English would be the language of her education, and that she would begin learning it that morning.

There was no such thing as bilingual education. There was no television to mimic; even the few radio programs were in French. Sunday Mass was in Latin and French.

Her brothers and sisters on their impoverished farm during the 1920s and ’30s couldn’t help her because they, too, spoke only French, and besides, they were too busy with their physical labors to even try to assist her with her homework.

Contrary to the claims of latter-day education “experts,” my mother was not already literate in French because Louisiana Cajun French was, until recently, strictly a spoken dialect. So, French-English dictionaries based on Parisian French wouldn’t have been of much use, even if they had been available. (They were not).

My mother learned English, beginning right there in the first grade. No special classes. No coddling. Just immersion in English and lots of homework. She went on to college and nursing school.

She and thousands of other Cajuns, as well as millions of native speakers of Italian, Polish, Vietnamese, Yiddish and other languages, succeeded because no one pandered to them or made excuses for them. This is not bogus educational theory, this is not speculation, this is not the posturing of academia.

The self-serving theorists of bilingual education, especially those who dwell on only one other language, insult the intelligence of every child and adult who has learned English without phony, expensive pedagogy. Tom Viator Burns lives in Mesa. The views expressed reflect those of the author.

Comments are closed.