Mine is a Spanish-speaking household. Instilling in my children a sense of ethnic identity is my role; it is not the role of the school system. The public schools have the responsibility to teach skills needed in public life – among them the use of the English language. I differ with educators who advocate bilingual education programs whose goal is to preserve the Spanish language and culture among children of Hispanic families.
These professionals argue that in an English-speaking environment, Spanish-speaking children often feel alienated and that this causes them to become withdrawn and hostile. Imagine how much more alienated these youngsters will feel if they are kept in special programs.
Hispanics, counted at 14.6 million in the 1980 census, may number 47 million by the year 2020. Yet they are notoriously under-represented in the arts, sciences, professions and politics. Economically, as a group, they tend to lag.
To get better jobs, young people must be fluent in English. Without English, they will be unable to protest to the proper authorities if they are abused. Non-English-speaking individuals are vulnerable to not only economic but also political exploitation.
The goal of bilingual education must be the mainstreaming of non-English-speaking children through the teaching of English. Ethnic identity, like religion, is a family matter.
Barbara Mujica is associate professor of Spanish at Georgetown University.