RHODE ISLAND Rep. Myrna C. George finally showed her true colors in her April 1 Commentary piece, “End bilingual-ed scam.” She claims to be a well-mainstreamed granddaughter of Greek immigrants. She represents District 31, in the West Bay and South County areas, which includes hardly any minority populations. Ms. George also uses the race card in a futile attempt to hide her lack of knowledge and sensitivity about a mainly urban educational problem that does not exist in the district she represents.
Her assertion that she knows “the problems faced by immigrants flies in the face of history and current issues of urban education. I am sure Representative George would agree that the problems faced by ethnic and language minorities such as Native Americans, African-Americans and Latino Americans are far different than those of early European immigrants who arrived in this country generations ago.
To equate learning Spanish to earning minimum wages as well as quote an alleged factory foreman when there are so many educated Latino professionals well versed on special- and alternative-learning programs are the strongest manifestations of her prejudice.
Congress initiated bilingual education in 1967, when it became evident that school districts nationwide were failing to provide equal access to education for language minorities. The disproportionate percentage of dropouts, and the lack of presence of Asian and Latino American students in post-secondary education, led to the 1974 Nicles and Lau U.S. Supreme Court decisions, in which it was determined that to place students in a classroom where they did not understand the instruction because of their lack of linguistic ability was tantamount to denying equal educational opportunity.
Contrary to Representative George’s arguments, studies have shown that given the appropriate resources, students in bilingual programs have a much higher degree of success than those placed in immersion programs. Studies also demonstrate that districts and states have failed to adequately fund poor districts where the majority of students may benefit from bilingual programs. Such disproportionate allocation of resources has affected poor and minority urban educational districts, creating a double standard in education, as seen in the dismal achievement of Providence schoolchildren in the past.
The cost of rehabilitation programs and incar-ceration of high school dropouts far exceeds the cost of transitional bilingual and other special-education programs. To suggest that providing necessary programs for thousands of schoolchildren in the poorest districts of Rhode Island is a scam borders on irresponsibility.
Throwing Limited English Proficient children in a sink-or-swim program to see if they make it to shore is not the answer. Bilingual education has not failed. The system has failed our students and communities by not providing adequate resources to ensure that bilingual-education programs can work the way they should.
Yes, we want and need our children and students to learn English. But why should they not use the linguistic skills they already possess to continue advancing at grade level in math, science, social studies and other important academic areas?
The xenophobia that permeates our legislative bodies seems to equate language with failure. Let’s give our children the opportunity and resources they need and deserve to become productive citizens. Bilingual programs are not a liability for our school system but a necessary resource.
Josi R. Aleman is assistant principal at Central High School, in Providence. He has a background in bilingual education.