I must respond to the disturbing attacks on bilingual education that have been appearing on these pages recently. Those of us who have devoted our lives to the education of minority language students are well aware from our own experience and from authoritative research that bilingual education is the most effective instructional program to promote success in English as well as in other academic subjects.
Since 1973 when I received my degree in bilingual eduction, through further years and degrees of study in the field, through over 20 years of working in public schools as a Spanish teacher, bilingual teacher’s assistant, ESL tutor, bilingual teacher and bilingual principal, I have heard arguments against bilingual education. They have not come from people who have read the research without prejudice.
Editorial statements blaming the high dropout rate for Hispanics lump all Hispanics together, rather than comparing those who had a consistent bilingual education versus those that did not (and of course, accounting for other significant factors). Bilingual education is not only good in theory, it has also been proven effective in practice.
I can tell you that in none of the many bilingual classrooms where I have taught was Spanish spoken all day with only 30 minutes of English instruction. In fact, the data I gathered as a supervising administrator, showed English being spoken about 75 percent of the time.
Bilingual education as I have seen it practiced is the authentic use of language by students, some of whom speak English and some of whom speak Spanish along with the purposeful use of language by professional educators in order to encourage bilingualism, biliteracy and academic success.
Being a bilingual educator means I have worked with some of the most economically disadvantaged children from some of the most marginalized families. Without question, it has required more time and more work than if I were working in a monolingual classroom.
Bilingual, multicultural education is a well thought-out response to a complex problem. It considers the integral interrelationship between culture and learning, as well as the significant difference in educational experience for majority, high-status culture students as compared with minority, low-status culture students.
For those who recommend that culture and language be “taught at home,” I urge you to examine just how impossible it is to have school without culture, and to consider the fact that American students are expected to study English from kindergarten through college. To assert that only one culture be promoted in schools and that all others should be promoted at home is obvious racism as is the contention that other languages can be learned satisfactorily at home, while English must be taught in school.
Bilingualism is a precious resource that our state and our nation can ill afford to squander. So are the minds and spirits of our minority language students. With bilingual education these resources can flourish. Furthermore, by including our majority language students in these classes, we have an effective formula for developing a true democratic community.
Patty Mentz is the principal at bilingual Mission View Elementary School.