Urgent: Reform Bilingual Education Children Put in Programs against Parents' Wishes with Disastrous Results

By Jorge Amselle. Jorge Amselle is the communications director . | The Christian Science Monitor, December 26, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Urgent: Reform Bilingual Education Children Put in Programs against Parents' Wishes with Disastrous Results


Jorge Amselle. Jorge Amselle is the communications director ., The Christian Science Monitor


THE movement to make English the official language of the United States has picked up considerable steam recently with endorsements by Sen. Bob Dole and hearings in both the House and Senate. Unfortunately, many of the congressional advocates of official English are afraid to touch the single most damaging federally promoted multilingual program: bilingual education.

"The bill {to make English the official language} does not affect existing laws which provide bilingual and native language instruction. Those statutes are integral parts of our national language policy," Senate Government Affairs Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska said at hearings in December. Rep. Randy Cunningham (R) of California showed similar squeamishness when he chaired hearings on official English in the House in November.

What these lawmakers don't realize is that reforming bilingual education is more important than passing symbolic official English legislation. More than 1 million students are enrolled in programs that promote their native language at the expense of helping them learn English. The costs of these programs are astronomical: Estimates of federal, state, and local spending on native language programs run from $5 billion to $12 billion. And many parents don't want their children in these programs at all.

The affidavits filed by frustrated parents in New York - who are suing the state to get their children out of bilingual programs - are shocking. One parent, Maria Espinal, testified about what happened to her son after two years of bilingual education. "In third grade in the bilingual program, his teacher told me that he spoke neither English nor Spanish," she said.

When she told school officials that she wanted her son in regular English classes, they tried to pressure her into putting him in special education instead. What makes this case so frustrating is the fact that her son could speak English when he first started the program.

Another parent, Juana Zarzuela, testified that her son was transferred from bilingual education to special education, despite her objection to his being in either program.

"My son has been in bilingual education for five years, and in special education since 1994. {He} cannot read or write in English or Spanish," she said. Carmen Quinones testified: "My son is in ninth grade ... and has been in bilingual education since he entered the school system. My son is confused between Spanish and English."

Ada Jimenez testified that her grandson also cannot read or write in either language after five years of bilingual education. The reason is clear. As Ms. Jimenez said, "I personally met one of his teachers in the bilingual program who did not speak any English.

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