Now I Understand Bilingual Education First-Hand
Letters San Diego Union-Tribune
Saturday, December 27, 1997.

This year I volunteered for an after-school tutoring program to help children from Spanish-speaking homes with their homework.

Since I've been interested in this area for a long time, I've kept up with the various debates and news coverage about whether we should offer bilingual education in elementary schools.

My heart has been pulled both ways in these discussions, but now, with some first-hand experience, I have a definite viewpoint.

These children by necessity have learned some English. They live here, they play here and they go to school here. They can carry on an adequate conversation in English, needing help in sounding out some words. But what surprised me was their textbooks.

They have brand new math books, printed in Spanish. As I help a child speak and read and write English, then we get to math and we have to change languages and I'm struggling with them, trying to sound out the math instructions in Spanish, which at the second-grade level they cannot read either.

In the past as I've listened to debates on bilingual education, I pictured these children sitting in school surrounded completely by English learning materials and needing someone to help them translate the English into Spanish until they learned the English meaning of things. And I felt this was very necessary.

But if our educational system is having textbooks printed in Spanish, I believe we are actually slowing these children down. At the beginning levels, when children have enough trouble learning to sound out words and read, these children are faced with having to do it in two languages!

La Jolla