Bilingual education is a sticky subject. It has overtones of racism and prejudice and is intertwined with such complicated issues as the economy and civil rights.

That is why my neighbor, a Mexican-American who worked for several years as a bilingual aide, asked that I not use her name.

“Those kids were supposed to go into regular classrooms in third grade,” she said. “They couldn’t speak a word of English. And they were treated differently.”

The West Valley has a large Hispanic population, with extensive bilingual education programs in several West Valley school districts.

Whether that changes may be up to voters in 2000. The quality of students coming out of west-side schools will have a significant impact on the social and economic growth of the West Valley.

A convincing argument could be made that bilingual education is an Anglo-American plot designed to segregate Hispanics and keep them from competing with their Anglo counterparts in school and the workplace.

Although I don’t believe there is a conspiracy, I believe that the outcome is a reality. I know policymakers and educators are well-meaning, because I was one of those educators.

I came out of Arizona State University thumping the proverbial tambourine, singing the praises of bilingual ed like a good little politically correct sheep. Hallelujah.

As a classroom teacher, it didn’t take long to observe that despite sound bilingual teaching practices rooted in “research” and despite hard work on the part of administrators, teachers and aides, the students weren’t learning much English, and the pace of learning was much slower than in a traditional English-only classroom.

It was then I concluded that bilingual education is counterproductive and a waste of children’s precious time.

If bilingual education worked, we might see dropout rates and teen pregnancies of Hispanic youths fall. And we might increase the number of those students prepared for higher education or well-paying careers.

Mexican immigrants who came to the United States for the promise of a brighter economic future are no different from the immigrants of three and four generations ago.

Those immigrants knew that the key to success was assimilating into the macroculture and learning the language as quickly as possible.

They worked hard and learned quickly until security and prosperity were theirs. The formula worked for decades, and given a chance, will continue to work for immigrants now.

Today’s Mexican immigrants who have chosen to cross the border in search of a slice of “American Pie” are met by those who insist on limiting their educational experience and delaying their assimilation into mainstream America under the guise of “bilingual education.” Yet fewer than 3 percent of students in bilingual classrooms are ever mainstreamed into English-only classrooms.

If those students can’t compete with their Anglo counterparts in school, how will they ever compete in the workplace?

Hispanics I know fervently embrace bilingualism. But most say bilingual education holds Hispanic kids back.

Jose “Pepe” Gonzales, an administrator at a distributorship in Goodyear, came to the United States with his family in 1963.

“We were put into all-English classes right away, and I appreciate it,” he said. “I may have still gotten where I am today, but it would have taken a lot longer. And I know I would have had a hard time in high school.”

A major asset to his company, Gonzales is bilingual at work and continues to maintain Mexican traditions for his family at home.

Jose Martinez and his wife, Gloria, of west Phoenix have five children, all of whom have been educated in an English-only setting.

Immersion is the best way to learn, Martinez said.

“I have a nephew who has been in bilingual classes,” he said. “He can’t speak any English. All English would be best, especially for all the Mexican immigrants.”

Some argue that immersing Hispanics in English instruction will somehow make them lose or forsake their native culture.

We should give Mexican families more credit than that. We can honor and respect another’s culture without spending public funds to preserve and promote it and without holding back a large segment of our population.

Comments are closed.