AbstractIn a world seemingly shrunken by the technological realities of air travel and the Internet, the issue oflanguage education at the K-12 level might seem to be a “no-brainer:” The assumption might be thatthe more languages a student learns, the better off shell be in a global economy and increasinglymulticultural world.In the United States, though, its apparently not that simple.Though bilingual education, the practice of educating American immigrants in both their native tongueand in English, dates back to the 1840s in the United States, it has been a contentious issue from thevery start.The purpose of this paper is not to judge pro or con rationales regarding bilingual education, but merelyto list arguments on both sides of the ongoing debate.
Arguments Against Bilingual EducationIn an essay published originally in 2004 as Do Immigrants Benefit America? And republished in 2008in Gales Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center database under the title Bilingual Education isDeterimental to Everyone, Peter Duignan lays out nearly all of the most popular arguments againstbilingual education. Recognizing that immigrants are historically, what the United States is made of,he asserts that the recent wave of Hispanic immigrants changed that “melting pot” paradigm byresisting assimilation into American culture. “By insisting on preferential treatment,” he added,“especially in the area of bilingual education, immigrants place their children at a disadvantage andthreaten the unity of the nation” (Duignan, 2008).In the course of his essay, Duignan claims that, unlike previous European immigrants, Hispanicimmigrants have come to America more quickly and in greater numbers “especially through illegalentrance” (Duignan, 2008). He goes on to claim that they are harder to integrate than early 20th centuryimmigrants and that there are “fewer pressures on them to assimilate and learn English” (Duignan,2008).So, he asserts, “bilingual education, multiculteralism, and ethnic clustering slow up the workings of theso-called melting pot” (Duignan, 2008).These three factors, he says, make the assimilation process slower and less successful. “Todayschildren will take three generations to assimilate” he adds (Duignan,2008).Duignan also argued that bilingual education became “Spanish cultural maintenance, and left studentslagging behind their English-only peers. He quotes Linda Chavez, president of the Center for EqualOpportunity, in the same essay, as claiming that “Latinos taught in bilingual programs test behind peerstaught in English-only classrooms, drop out at a high rate, and are trapped in low-skilled, low-payingjobs” (Duignan, 2008).
Arguments in Favor of Bilingual EducationIn an article entitled Lets Not Say Adios to Bilingual Education published in U.S. Catholic andresponding to Californias rejection of bilingual education in their 1998 passage of Proposition 227,Lourdes Rovira provides sweeping counterpoint to Duignans popular misgivings, pointing out themore human and individual benefits of bilingual education.She begins by stating the obvious: “To learn English, students need not forget the language they bringto school—be it Spanish, Vietnamese or Urdu” (Rovira, 1998). Expanding, she asserts that studying asecond language is a right that belongs to all students, that languages expand childrens cognitivedevelopment, and that “knowing more than one language is not an impediment to intellectual capacity”(Rovira, 1998). If it were, she argues, the most children outside the U.S, would be intellectuallyinferior, the majority of them being bilingual (Rovira, 1998). She adds (Rovira, 1998): Students are enabled—not disabled—by being bilingual; they are empowered by knowing more than one language. The American experience is strengthened, not weakened, by citizens who can cross languages and cultures. The United States can no longer afford to remain a monolingual country in a multilingual world. Being bilingual and biliterate not only gives people a political and economic advantage, it also allows them to be bridges between people of different cultures. Rovira also mentions, and perhaps understates, the fact that for a non-English speaker, bilingual education can help preserve a sense of pride in ones native culture while helping also helping allay the tremendous fear that can accompany sudden immersion into another. In her article, Bilingual Ed Saved My Life, published in New Youth Connections, Jia Lu Yin, wrote of the paralyzing fear Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants often feel when arriving in the United States, relating that many immigrants feel lonely and unwanted, and often have an urge to return to the home of their
native language, unless bilingual education provides a comforting buffer. (Yin, 1992.) ConclusionThis paper was intended only to list arguments of both sides of the bilingual education in the U.S.debate, so no conclusion is called for. Research does show that the time-frame of this debate is veryimportant though, as it seems to shift with national sentiments. Bilingual education, for examplebegan with German immigrants in the 1840s but became contentious in the years leading up toWorld War I. A similar tightening of tolerance for other cultures took place during World War II. Asanti-immigration sentiment escalated in the American Southwest beginning in the 1980s, then so didthe tenor of the bilingual education discussion. The debate about the merits and demerits of bilingualeducation continues to be heated today, even in the face of an increasingly multicultural Americaand undeniably global economy, where answers might seem fairly obvious.
ReferencesDuignan, P. (2008). Bilingual Education Is Detrimental to Everyone. In J. D. Ginn (Ed.), At Issue.Bilingual Education. Detroit: Greenhaven Press. (2008). (Reprinted from , n.d.) (Reprinted from World & I, February 2004, 19, 20-25)Rovira, L. (1998, November). Lets not say adios to bilingual education. U.S. Catholic, 63(11), 22+.Yin, J. (1992, December). Bilingual Ed Saved My Life. New Youth Connections, 15.