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. This form of education is a throwback to the 1960s and is referred to as "sink or swim." Even worse than this method is the common practice of mislabeling of LEP students as "learning disabled," says Lyons. According to NABE data, LEP students are more than 300 percent over-represented nationally in special education classes. Lyons cites many examples of parents being told that their children will be placed in "special" classes and given "special" consideration in smaller classrooms -- but they are not told that their children are being labeled as "mentally retarded."

About one-half of the LEP students are in ESL classes, and only one fourth are considered to be receiving bilingual instruction.

Izquierdo, who previously served as principal of Oyster Elementary School in Washington, DC -- a school considered a model for bilingual education because its students score above the national norm -- says that the theory behind bilingual education is to develop or create bilingual individuals, "whether they be Black, white, Hispanic or Asian."

At Oyster, says Izquierdo, there are always two teachers in the classroom. The method employed is called "two-way developmental."

Ironically, she says, at Oyster, which always has a long waiting list, the most avid supporters of bilingual education are African American and white professionals because they recognize its economic value.

"It's not about language. It's about power," says Izquierdo.

"Bilingual education is about preparing better students for the world....It's not even good enough to know two languages," she says.

The problem, say bilingual education proponents, is that foreign language instruction in the United States is taught during the student's "later" years. Accordingly, bilingual education is discouraged in the "early" years -- a "backward concept," says Izquierdo. Bilingual education allows students to read, write, speak and lecture in two languages, she argues, unlike foreign-language instruction which mostly teaches simple phraseology.

Students who are bilingual enter the job market with a tremendous advantage, says Izquierdo. And it's not expensive. "Ignorance is expensive."

When students are not placed in bilingual instruction, "We are mentally preparing them in elementary school to drop out," says Izquierdo.

Izquierdo believes the reason some Hispanic parents and students remain passive regarding American education is that society has stigmatized them. Many parents have gone through the embarrassment of not knowing English. "Many of the parents don't want their kids to go through what they went through -- the negative suppression of their culture. Some parents and grandparents still remember going to school where speaking Spanish was prohibited and their mouths were washed out with soap."

The attacks by Dole and other politicians represent a desire to return to the 1960s when non-English speaking students were labeled "uneducable," says Marjorie Haley, assistant provost for academic programs and special instruction at George Mason University. Asian and Latino kids to this day in Virginia are still placed in classes for the mentally retarded, she says.

Haley, who supervises the English Instruction Institute (founded in 1987) works with high schools and recruits students to George Mason University. Two years ago, the university realized that many students were not English-dominant. Many students were struggling in an English-only environment, she says. As a result, the university created an early identification program among three local school systems to recruit students -- whose first language is not English -- to enroll at the university.

There's a "huge" waiting list, says Haley, attesting to the program's need.

Students enrolled in the program are not considered "at risk." Its success dispels the myth that knowing a different language has nothing to do with intelligence, she says. The goal of the program is not simply ensuring that students know conversational English, but that they be able to do college work in the English language.

Although the president of the university is in full support, the program can always be expanded, Haley says. "We need additional personnel and funding."

Outside the Mainstream?

Jose Cardenas, director emeritus of the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association, says of Dole, "opponents of bilingual education don't let the facts get in the way."

When people ask Cardenas how successful bilingual education has been, he often replies, "I don't know. We have never tried it."

Despite the great models for bilingual education, "Very seldom have bilingual education programs ever had trained staff, adequate materials and resources," says Cardenas. Many programs are taught by teachers who are not bilingual, he says, adding that he has never visited a bilingual program that wasn't inadequate in at least one area.

Another problem is that bilingual education is taught by teachers who utilize Castilian or "correct Spanish" to teach English. "That defeats the purpose of utilizing the language of the child...For many kids, `correct Spanish' is as foreign and dysfunctional as is English."

Cardenas, author of hundreds of articles and a central figure in most of the major legal decisions dealing with bilingual education, says that Mexican kids come to school as voracious learners, but the schools take away their language and don't allow them to learn because their language is not the right one.

In 45 years as an educator and 30 years as an advocate of bilingual education, Cardenas says he has never encountered a valid pedagogical theory or reality in opposition to bilingual education. The only ones opposed, he says, are administrators. The reason for the opposition is because bilingual education was developed from outside the mainstream, he says. Mexican

Americans and other Latinos developed it, through state laws and court cases. "Many schools are still not receptive to bilingual education. The only reason they have programs is because it is required by law," he says.

`Emotional' Opposition

The opposition to bilingual education is based on emotional reasons, misrepresentation, emotional and attitudinal reasons, says Cardenas. It's outright racism, he declares, noting that xenophobia is the No. 1 reason for opposing bilingual education, not pedagogical ones.

Opposition to bilingual education is typified by an anecdote Cardenas says he picked up from the late Texas State Rep. Matt Garcia: Miriam "Ma" Ferguson -- who had been elected to the Texas state governorship in 1924 explained why she was opposed to legislation that would require every high school student in the state to learn a foreign language. Picking up a Bible, she said: "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas."

An educator Cardenas once met said he opposed bilingual education, telling him: "But if you educate these migrants, who will pick the crops?"

With the Dole attacks and the current anti-bilingual legislation, "we're going back 30 to 40 years when the drop-out rate was 80 percent among Mexican Americans," says Cardenas.

Manufactured Myths

Essentially, the opposition to bilingual education comes from well-financed lobbies and some Congressional representatives who do not represent districts with large Latino or Asian constituencies.

Rick Lopez, NABE legislative director, says the three main opposition groups are U.S. English, English First and the Center for Equal Opportunity, headed by Linda Chavez, who formerly was the executive director of U.S. English.

Lopez says that these organizations, while not having any constituencies, are well-financed, noting that in the 1988 referendum to declare English the official language of the state of Arizona, 99 percent of the money came from U.S. English. The law, which was approved by the voters, was overturned this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

No organized opposition exists within the educational community. The national PTA, the Council of Great City Schools and the National Education Association all support bilingual education.

The only exceptions are a few teacher groups in California who oppose it not on pedagogical grounds but because they see it as a jobs issue, says Lyons. While the student population has gone from overwhelmingly white to majority Latino in many parts of the state, including Southern California, many teachers refuse to get retrained and credentialed to teach this new population, he says.

`Political Garbage'

Flores says: "We do not need to prove anything [to opponents of bilingual education]. The research proves it."

Flores sees the attacks as part of an effort to dismantle public education. "It's an effort to dismantle all the gains of the civil rights era," she says.

One of the most important reasons for bilingual education is that students learn academic English and Spanish -- which is not simply for the home, but essential in securing jobs, says Flores.

Some parents who oppose bilingual education find that their children learn English, but also "lose" parents and the culture in the process. The teaching of English should not include a rejection of the culture, says Flores. "Students should not lose their dignity in the process."

Bilingual education works and all the evidence points in that direction, she says, noting that at one school she works with -- Dool Elementary in Calexico, CA -- students score as well as students from the wealthy community of La Jolla, CA, a school renowned for its stiff academic program. Ten years ago, students from Dool scored in the 17th percentile, she says. As a result of working with teachers there, the teachers have changed their "deficient attitudes" toward Mexican students, she adds.

Reynaldo Macias, of the University of California-Santa Barbara and director of the UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute, says that the idea that LEP students don't want to learn English "is just political garbage." There's no credence to their arguments. It's a straw man argument. All studies from the past 25 years show that the top three goals of every immigrant family are 1) to learn English, 2) get a job and 3) buy a home...almost always in that order."

The idea that we only need one language leads to isolation and cultural arrogance, says Macias.

"This type of thinking can lead to laws that exclude, prohibit and punish those who don't speak English...It's happened before," says Macias.

Issues and Solutions

Escamilla says that to combat myths and pending legislation, NABE has created a campaign called the Campaign Against Racism and Extremism. "It's apart from our normal work. We advocate against anything that's detrimental to `language minority' children," she says. Part of the work involves doing research on the opponents of bilingual education, leadership training and advocacy in Congress. NABE's time could be better spent buying books but the anti-bilingual legislation and mood requires us to fight back...We have to...full force," she says.

"We have another campaign called Goal 2003", says Escamilla. It is the goal of NABE that by the year 2003, all new teachers will be bilingual or becoming bilingual.

The real issues facing bilingual education are numerous, says Lyons. The first problem is in the area of professional development. There is currently a shortage of close to 200,000 bilingual teachers. And of those who teach, many are poorly trained or not trained at all, he says.

The solution, says Escamilla, is to utilize and train paraprofessionals and send them to college so they can be credentialed teachers.

A second issue is that of advocacy. "We have to work hard to have schools reach out and involve parents," says Lyons. "When parents make a choice as to what kind of program their child should be in, their decision should be based on good, solid and objective information."

A third issue is leadership development. Proponents of bilingual education must get on school boards and become involved with the schools to push for strong bilingual educational programs, says Lyons. "People need to get beyond this `pseudo crisis' and help the schools do a better job of educating kids."

Does Dole Need Languages?

Alice Paul, a professor in the University of Arizona's College of Education, says that if Dole is considering running for president, he exhibits a "very narrow view." As president, he deals with presidents of other countries. Knowledge of languages other than English can only be good for him, she says.

Dole's view is contrary to what the founding of the nation was all about, says Paul, whose Native-American name is Tohono O'dhn.

We as a society have to go beyond the days of her childhood when speaking a language other than English was considered "unAmerican," says Paul. The idea that speaking languages other than English is "foreign and recent" is false, she notes. In Europe, people speak two or three languages to get along. Here, speaking more than one language is considered a privilege.

"Native Americans didn't come from anywhere, yet they forced us [through boarding schools] to learn English," says Paul. Only half the languages that existed prior to the coming of the white man still exist and many others are in danger of becoming extinct, she says. "When a language has less than 100 intergenerational speakers, it is considered 'dead." she says.

The importance of maintaining a language is that, once it is lost, the history goes with it, says Paul. This is particularly troubling for Native Americans because many of their languages are transmitted through oral tradition. Information about medicine, food, songs, history and ceremonies are not passed on if the language is lost.

As a teacher of teachers, Paul is saddened by her observation that very few people of color going into the teaching profession. Less than 1 percent of her graduate students are minority, she notes. Only a handful of Native Americans are pursuing the profession. They choose, instead, areas such as engineering and pre-med.

Paul points out that without institutional support, without the teachers, many parents will continue to lose their children. "That's a painful thing to do. That something that happens in Native and Spanish-speaking communities and it's starting to happen in Asian communities. Many Asian kids are joining gangs. It's very deep," notes Paul.

Even if Dole's wishes were to come true, the Indian nations, which are sovereign, would continue to have bilingual education. "They've spent 500 years telling us what to do. They've made enough mistakes. We want to make our own."

If Cuts Succeed, Bilingual Funds Zeroed Out

Macias says that if deep cuts are made to bilingual education, training programs and teacher education programs, along with other valuable entities, will be zeroed out.

The cuts would not affect the core research being done at universities, but it would wipe away many of the teacher education and training grants. The National Clearinghouse of Bilingual Education, which has 20 years of archival research, would also be wiped out.

"If you uncover the veneer of `reasonableness,' there's a viciousness [to the cuts]," says Macias.

Macias says that the No. 1 goal for bilingual educators is to diversify the profession. Currently it's 90- percent white and mostly female. And in the near future, it will become even "whiter," he says.

Jaime Ruiz Escalante, of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and president of the Texas Association of Bilingual Educators, says that the primary goal of educators is to create an environment that isn't "outright racist." In other words, the successful teaching of bilingual education cannot be accomplished in a negative social environment.

The solution to the education of non-English speaking students is not "immersion -- we already tried those methods in the 1950s," says Ruiz Escalante.

Flores says that bilingual education has to be supported and viewed as an enhancement, as opposed to a deficiency, inadequacy or as compensatory...."Maybe bilingual education is working [in providing advantages]. That's probably why they want to eliminate it. As a taxpayer, parent and educator, I want to have a choice. I want my child to have equal access to knowledge."

Currently, America spends an average of $38,000 per prisoner and only $3,800 per student. "Imagine if we spent $10,000 per student," asks Flores. If students were nurtured, given the right preparation and [adequate] materials, what an education that would be."

Photo (Dr, Reynaldo Macias, University of California-Santa Barbara)


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