Bilingual Education the United States Term Paper

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In terms of efficacy, Krashen addresses the position that bilingual education is not as effective as suggested by its proponents.

The evidence presented by this position is however not sufficiently convincing to make a substantial case for immersion programs as being superior to bilingual curricula.

Krashen admits that there are still a number of problems associated with bilingual education that need to be addressed. The largest of these is the accessibility of books in either language to children taking part in bilingual programs. Books are essential in the learning process. In bilingual programs, particularly, it is not only a source of subject knowledge, but also of comprehensible input that is a valuable basis for transference as well as first-language development. The problem is that these learners have little access to books, either at home or at school.

James Crawford (1998) also addresses the bilingual education issue from both sides. According to the author, general opposition points to bilingual education include questions regarding such education as having an isolating rather than integrating effect, the superiority of immersion programs, and the excessive "political correctness" label that could be placed upon bilingual education. Another significant opposition point, and perhaps the core of the controversy, relates to English as forming the national identity. According to opponents, bilingual education is likely to divide Americans among ethnic lines rather than encourage all citizens to integrate into the "American" way of life.

Like Krashen, Crawford holds that oppositions such as these, whether made in good faith or from a racial or politically biased point-of-view, are indicative of a basic ignorance regarding bilingual education and its concomitant issues such as second language acquisition and non-English speaking groups in the United States, both in the present and in the past.

Also like Krashen, Crawford refutes many of the popular myths surrounding bilingualism and education by means of statistical findings and documented research. One of the most significant in this regard is bilingualism. During the 1960's, the popular notion that bilingualism handicap children's cognitive growth, proved unfounded. Since this decade, it has also been proved that the contrary is true: multilingualism does not have a confusing effect; in fact, it tends more towards providing the speaker with cognitive advantages. Concomitantly, the immersion method of language teaching has been proved incorrect by practical experience. As mentioned above, as disproportionate amount of non-native speakers failed or dropped out from schools where they were immersed in the language without any help to overcome the barriers created in this way. According to the immersion theory, the quantity of English input is the deciding factor in terms of second language learning success. However, according to the author, research proves that it is rather the quality than quantity of input, with quality referring to comprehensible second language input, that is the deciding factor in such success.

Crawford further substantiate all the points made by Krashen's document, concluding with the linguistic consensus among experts in the field is that, while native-language teaching in no way serves as a detriment to second-language acquisition, skills that are well developed in the native language also tend to transfer to other, newly acquired languages. Furthermore the value of bilingualism cannot be denied in terms of either individuals or society as a whole.

Bilingual Education: Opponents

It is interesting that opponents to bilingual education appear to be represented by politicians rather than linguists. The problem is that persons who are not trained in the language arts, nor in the way in which language is acquired, are furnished with the power of legislation to return to the period before the 1960s, when bilingualism was outlawed. Another problem is that campaigns to outlaw bilingual education are couched in political jargon and emotionally charged assertions at a time when Americans are in an emotional state regarding other issues such as terrorism and the war in Iraq. Politicians are using this to manipulate citizens according to their own agendas, rather than because it would be best for education.

Currently, the United States is going through a difficult political period. Emotions are running high not only in terms of the war on terrorism, but also in terms of the concomitant issue of culture and language. Whereas German was the maligned language and culture during the World Wars, currently Arabs are at the receiving end of racial slurs and attacks. Because of this, Americans are also subject to a particularly patriotic feeling, which translates itself to the language issue. Hence the drive to phase out bilingual education is politically rather than linguistically motivated. Basically the same thing that happened during the World Wars and beyond is repeating itself. The fact that immersion programs failed without any dispute is ignored in the urge towards Americanization.

This is shown in the Internationalist report of 2003. The report describes the efforts by various states to reinstate immersion to replace bilingual programs. Massachusetts for example passed Question 2 by 70%, calling for replacing the existing bilingual program with an English immersion program. Chillingly, non-compliant teachers are threatened by being sued, or even jailed. ESL instructors are also in danger of this, and even teachers unions are under attack from racist groups fueled by the 9/11 attacks. The report draws a parallel between the many immigrant detentions as a result of mindless, fearful hysteria rather than any legitimate grounds.

The main drive behind this political initiative is Ron Unz, a millionaire from Silicon Valley. Unfortunately it appears that in the United States, freedom of speech and equality for all is driven by money rather than the ideals themselves. Hence Unz has funded anti-bilingual campaigns in several states. According to the report, Unz has very little interest in the education of children, but is rather driven by a xenophobic paradigm for the eradication of all "foreign" cultures, of which language is of course representative.

Proposition 227 in California and Proposition 203 in Arizona were both funded by Unz, also the author of numerous articles and other publications focused on the eradication of other languages and cultures under the premise that they are "contaminating" everything that the American ideal stands for. The Internationalist his work, "California and the End of White America" in Commentary (November 1999), in this regard.

After 9/11, Unz and other individuals of the same persuasion were quick to demonize bilingualism in education and its proponents as "terrorists." At the time of the Internationalist report, Unz was focusing his attention on New York in his effort in pushing for national legislation to ban bilingual education.

The problem, from the bilingual proponent's point-of-view, is two-fold. Firstly, as mentioned above, Unz is not a linguist, nor does he particularly care for the educational efforts of young children in the country. His motive is purely political. Secondly, Unz's theories and assertions appeal to many politicians in the White House and in Congress. Hence he has a large amount of political backing for his efforts, whereas bilingual education proponents hardly have a foot to stand on in the mass-hysteria following 9/11.

An example of this power is the "No Child Left Behind" Act, established by George Bush in 2001. this act eliminates the 1968 Title VII, under which bilingual education is required for the benefit of minority immigrant groups. The vast support not only from politicians, but also from the public, for legislation against bilingualism is perhaps a sad testament to the American tendency to follow without question its leaders. This tendency is the result of the unfortunate political situation after 9/11. As a result, as is the reality of every war, the children at the receiving end of education suffer the most.

Concomitant with the extreme political situation is the rapid rise in immigration from the 1980s to date. The Internationalist (2003) cite numbers such as 11.2% of the total U.S. population being foreign-born as revealed by the 2000 census; a number that rose from 4.7 during 1980. It is emphasized that these numbers do not truly indicate reality, as children and undocumented foreign workers are not included in the census figures. According to the report, these figures are the highest since the 1920s. Another element is that these immigrants have formed fairly large homogeneous groups throughout the United States, whereas in the past the tendency was more towards individual immigrants among the majority of English-speaking American community. Major areas of the country are for example occupied by Spanish-speaking immigrants, while some areas are predominantly occupied by Latino and Asian workers. It is little wonder therefore that hysterical and racist Americans see these groups as threatening to the national identity and security in the country. Sadly, it appears that history is repeating itself. The current negativity towards all immigration is reminiscent of extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and anti-immigrant legislation during the 1920's immigration boom.

In addition to security and culture, it is feared that bilingual education will usurp English as the dominant language in the United States. The Internationalist (2003) however refers to this as…

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