Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

ESL and Bilingual Education as a Proxy for Racial and Ethnic Segregation in U.S. Public Schools

Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

ESL and Bilingual Education as a Proxy for Racial and Ethnic Segregation in U.S. Public Schools

Article excerpt


Imagine the experience of an elementary school student who arrives for her first day in a new school. As she is guided through the halls by her new principal, her senses are bombarded by a rush of sights and sounds. She proceeds toward her new classroom, and along the way she can hear the voices of helpful teachers, the ringing children's laughter, musical instruments, bouncing balls, and all of the other sounds of young minds being shaped in today's public schools. However, once she reaches her destination, she is steered into a classroom where all of the students have one thing in common: their skin color. She will soon realize that her classroom is one which caters to Latino students for whom English is a second language. However, this young girl speaks English fluently.

Unfortunately, this girl's story has become a common occurrence in U.S. public schools today. In Dallas, the Santamaria family encountered this same experience of segregation in the Dallas Independent School District and is now suing for violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.' The Santamaria family is facing a battle for equal education reminiscent of the one in Brown v. Board of Education.2

Fifty-two years have passed since the landmark decision in Brown3 and the subsequent battle for integration and equal treatment in the schools. After so much time, presumably this country should have reached the point where schools are no longer segregated based on skin color or ethnic origin. U.S. public schools should have become comforting, instructional environments that welcome diversity and celebrate students' differences, while still offering each student the opportunity to receive an education equal to that received by his or her schoolmates. However, such assumptions are dangerously false in light of the tensions that still exist between cultures in the United States.

Santamaria v. Dallas Independent School District is a Texas case that represents the new battle for integration and equal treatment in U.S. schools.4 However, Santamaria does not deal exclusively with racial discrimination. What obscures the issue in Santamaria is the intervening factor of a student's native language and how English proficiency is currently used as a proxy for more blatant, invidious racial and ethnic discrimination.5

This controversy serves as an eerie reminder of the days when Alabama Governor George Wallace attempted to bar the doors of the University of Alabama and deny entry to students who were not born with white skin.6 Governor Wallace's actions are viewed as the fulfillment of his campaign promise to stop integration "at the schoolhouse door" in Alabama.7 While the setting has shifted and the administrators of Preston Hollow Elementary School in Dallas, Texas are not so obvious in their attempts to segregate the school's classrooms, the result is essentially the same: students who are different are forced aside and kept in classrooms ill-equipped to cater to and cultivate their educational potential.8

This Note will argue that segregation of Anglo-American9 children into general education classes and English-proficient Latino children into English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual classes has the same discriminatory effect of the race discrimination condemned in Brown.10 Today, U.S. schools use a student's level of English proficiency as a proxy for racial discrimination and segregation." In so doing, schools contribute to an unequal education for those students who are incorrectly placed in ESL classes. This process also singles out Latino students as different, ultimately making them targets of peer discrimination and engendering those students with feelings of inferiority and hopelessness.12 Furthermore, it is a likely cause of the pronounced achievement gap between Anglo and Latino students in the United States. …

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