Ingles Solamente: Educators Rebuff Dole's Call to Eliminate Bilingual Education; Long Waiting Lists Attest to Program's Success

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Inglés Solamente: Educators Rebuff Dole's Call to Eliminate Bilingual. Education; Long Waiting Lists Attest to Program's Success

Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole's (RKS) call for declaring English the official language of the United States and eliminating bilingual education has come under heavy fire from bilingual educators.

Before an American Legion convention audience in Indianapolis last month, Dole declared he is opposed to bilingual education if its main purpose is not teaching English.

"Dole doesn't know what bilingual education is," says Jim Lyons, executive director of the National Association of Bilingual Educators (NABE). "He is as wrong as you can get."

The main function of bilingual education, say educators, is to teach English more effectively to non-English speakers.

"People who pander aren't concerned with the facts. If he had studied the issue, he would support bilingual education," says Lyons.

Kathy Escamilla, a professor in the University of Colorado at Denver's School of Education and NABE president says: "You don't need to legislate the obvious."

Eight Bills Pending

Currently, there are eight bills before Congress that would proclaim English the official language of the United States and outlaw bilingual education. Independent of these bills, the new federal budget, as proposed by Republicans, seeks to reduce two-thirds of the federal funding for bilingual education -- from $195 million to $53 million.

Regarding the proposed legislation, Escamilla says: "It's so dangerous. The two issues should be separated because bilingual education is meeting our goal [of teaching English].

"People are attempting to equate the use of the English language with patriotism. During World War II, we used [Native-American servicemen to speak in a special] Navajo code to win the war. Now we want to punish them and say that `good Americans' speak English. But we can know more than one language and be good Americans," proclaims Escamilla.

"The unfortunate reality is that pedagogy is related to politics," she adds.

Most educators view the attacks on bilingual education as simply a distraction from the real issues. Those who attack it, says Lyons, are people who are not educators and who know very little about it. In fact, he says, many don't even know the definition or purpose of bilingual education.

Defining Methods

Elena Izquierdo, a professor in the School of Education at the University of Texas at El Paso, says that, simply put, the definition of bilingual education is instruction that utilizes the student's native language to learn English. "In this country, the native language is primarily Spanish," she says. That is the preferred method of instruction of educators and the method which is deemed the most successful by all major studies.

Barbara Flores, professor of teacher education at California State University-San Bernardino, offers the view that bilingual education promotes the learning of English by using the student's native language as a steppingstone. "Pedagogically, this is sound, humane and a research-supported practice."

A second method is English-as-a-second-language (ESL) instruction in which non-English speaking students are basically taught in English. A third method is no method at all. In that approach a non-English-speaking student is placed into an English-speaking classroom.

Educators say that the second and third methods retard the learning process of a student and, in many cases, are traumatic because of the negative social environment. By contrast, in bilingual education, learning isn't suspended until English has been learned. Students learn all subjects while they're learning English, says Flores.

`Backward' Concept?

Data compiled by NABE shows that of the approximately 3.5 million students who are defined by the government as "limited English proficient" (LEP) -- more than one-fourth of them do not receive any formal language instruction at all. …