The United States of America gave lodging to millions of Immigrants from all over the world but especially from Latin/Central America. Thus, with such a heterogeneous population, Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas had to design a bill to change the legislative history of specialized education for students of limited English proficiency. Senator Yarborough’s program wanted to teach “Spanish as a native language” and teach “English as a second language.” (Stewner-Manzanares) The bill was later named the “Bilingual Education Act” (Stewner-Manzanares) and was enacted in 1968 with the purpose to provide special education needs, equal educational opportunities, and federally funded schools. In this research paper, I will examine how language policy in the United States has shape educational opportunities and the outcomes of bilingual education as a form of segregation for the nation’s immigrant students.
The history of language in the United States was very particular during the eighteenth century since “English was not always the language of instruction in American schools.” Most of the classes were conducted in “German, Dutch, French, and Swedish in some schools in Pennsylvania” explained Porter. The decision on education policy was made in school, church, city, or state. However, everything changed by 1968, once for the first time, the federal government dictated any educational policy, including how “non-English-speaking children should be educated.” Senator Spencer promised to pass a bill that taught children their native languages, so they will continue to learn other subjects while learning English. Senator expected “the transition would take a child three years.” However, what was designed to create rich opportunities for the non-English students to learn “so they can do regular schoolwork with their English-speaking classmates and received an equal educational opportunity” (Porter) ended up far beyond its original mission since it expanded segregation among non-English-speaking student Porter explained through her article.
The failure to provide equal education to non-English speaker students created problems that were taken to court. Lau v. Nichols was one of them. When a lawyer in San Francisco learned that the son of his clients was failing school because he did not know English. The suit was brought against the San Francisco school district, alleging that 1,800 Chinese students “were being denied an equal education because of their limited English skills.” Although the court disagrees that equal education was being denied. In 1974 the Supreme Court “overruled the lower courts, arguing that the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum do not constitute equal education.” Everything happened because the student knew little or no English and thus, they were “foreclosed from any meaningful education.” (Bon)
The inequality of educational opportunities has also affected non-English speaker children since more is being evenly spread around the nation’s schools while they’re simultaneously more ethnically isolated. Jill Barshay explains how “Latino children in America are being increasingly segregated from white children at school.” She explains that most Latino children never really get to “interact with white children at school as much as he or she used to.” A study shows that by 2010, “the nation’s Latino children attended elementary schools where nearly 3 out of 10 classmates were white, on average, down from 4 out of 10 in 1998.” (Barshay) In 12 years, that’s a big jump in ethnic isolation. For many Latino children, especially those who live in low-income Latino neighborhoods, the limited contact with white peers is more extreme.
Bilingual education is synonymous with segregation. I personally experienced it when I was in High School. I was put in an ESLO class for one year and it completely changes my life and my personality. A class that was supposed to be designed to bring me opportunities to communicate and to expand my knowledge about the United States. I learn very little English from that class since I would only speak Spanish to my classmates. I started to be shy to speak English and had almost zero interaction with the English-speaker classmates. I was always scared to speak up in class and I wasn’t like that in my native country, Venezuela. The New York Times article about segregation at school transmits something that for me, it is pure reality. The editor says that “by separating the foreign children for special classes, the bilingual programs emphasize what separates, rather than what joins, the children.” (Journalism) During my year through High School, any gain in language ability I achieved, was more than offset by the negative social effects of segregation.
The solution to ending bilingual education as a form of segregation is to teach children two languages. A walk-through at Heritage Elementary School in Woodburn, Oregon, can make you feel like you are touring Europe since, in one classroom, a group of third-graders learns to read in Spanish. Explained Rebecca Klein, author of the article. “Students receive multiplication tables in Russian.” The goal is to expand dual-language programs in public schools. Ms. Klein explains that “Woodburn students are not just bilingual.” They also are “more likely to graduate from high school than students from districts with similar population and levels of poverty.” Most importantly for any children in our country, it’s that they are more likely to continue to higher education, which leads to better job opportunities and, ultimately, a better quality of life. By enacting dual-language programs not only encourage the student to appreciate other cultures as well as their own but can even help desegregate districts where minority student and their white counterparts attend separate and unequal schools.
Another factor that may help solve the segregation issue is by having a strong, supportive teacher-student relationship. A great relationship between teacher-student will allow non-English learners to academically and linguistically grow. An article by Equity Alliance explains that “developing trust and rapport can be challenging when methods of communication are limited.” However, “special attention to classroom climate and Culture is critical, and teachers should take steps to create an inclusive classroom where students are encouraged to engage with one another.” That will allow them to share ideas, create rules, and make decisions about their learning and their environment as well. This, in this case, the teacher will serve as a facilitative role which is why it needs to be required that teachers have an interest in reaching and encouraging all students.
The US Department of Education put together an informative document on the benefits of being bilingual and biliterate. The documents explain that bilingual children “have an easier time: learning other languages, thinking about language, developing strong thinking skills, and growing in other areas of cognitive development.” But not only that, the text explains that it is extremely beneficial when it comes to academics. Since they can switch between languages, helping develop a more flexible approach to problem-solving since “the ability to read and think in two (or more) different languages promotes higher levels of abstract thought, which is important in learning.” Learning multiple languages ends segregation since it “diversify society by using their second language to build friendships.” Most importantly, have more job opportunities than monolingual in the future.
However, those are not the only benefits. With a strong foundation in their native language, children can apply what they know of learning to read to the second language, enhancing their literacy abilities and allowing them to “increase the rate at which they read comfortably…”. The document also shows that “children who speak more than one language usually get better grades and quickly build confidence as they become more competent in the second language and the great thing about children is that they can mimic sounds, words, and phrases so well that can even sound like a native speaker of the language.
Stephen Krashen is a well-respected linguist and promoter of bilingual education and second-language acquisition. He believes that “we need to provide the student with a great deal of comprehensible input, the essential ingredient in language acquisition.” Believes there are two important ingredients for teaching a second language to school-aged children. Several decades of research have confirmed that “we acquire languages when we understand what we read or what we hear.” Thus, “filling the classroom hour with aural comprehensible input and making sure students establish a pleasure reading habit in the second language,” it’s crucial. The second ingredient is “how language is acquired so that they can continue to improve in the language after the course is over and acquire other languages.” Krashen mentioned.
As the U.S. population becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, public education has a vital role in ensuring that this and subsequent generations are successful in a global, multilingual economy. Educators and policymakers have an obligation to ensure that ALL students have equitable opportunities and engagement in school, and successful outcomes. I can conclude my research paper by saying that language must be comprehensible for it to be learned. Immersion is most effective when it is connected to known and purposeful English comprehension strategies. It is also important that newly arrived English learners engage in social interactions that lessen their cognitive lead so that they can focus on language learning which can also help abolish segregation. Thus, for non-English speaker student to fully access the dominant U.S. culture, students need to be proficient in English while also being provided with opportunities to validate, appreciate, and built upon their own rich cultural, language, and literary heritage and this is why integration multilingual education to our school programs is crucial to help non-English speaker student in each part of our nation.