Time to finally end bilingual education

(U-WIRE) CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It is time to end bilingual education in America. This is a system that originally was intended to be temporary until students gained fluency in English, but it has evolved into a much larger and more dangerous program. Students are segregated and taught almost entirely in a language other than English, like Spanish or Chinese. The effects have been very negative as many students graduate unprepared to enter the work force.

The most recent movement to revamp bilingual education has taken place in California where about 1.3 million students – 23 percent of all enrolled – attend some type of bilingual class. Petitions were filed in November for a ballot measure requiring all students in public schools be taught primarily in English unless their parents request otherwise. This would virtually eliminate all bilingual education. This measure has overwhelming support in California – 80 percent overall and 84 percent among Hispanics. Only teachers in the bilingual education program, who receive an additional $5,000 a year, persist in supporting the program and insisting on its necessity.

Bilingual education is intended to ease the linguistic transition for immigrants. This is certainly a noble goal, but the results of the current program seem to be largely antithetical to the objective. Bilingual education has hindered rather than helped immigrants’ assimilation to America.

Michael Gonzalez, a journalist who began his education in a bilingual school, said just this. “The program delayed my immersion into English (and) created an added wedge between new immigrants and other students.”

Douglas Lasken, a fifth-grade teacher in Los Angeles, wrote that if essays by students in bilingual education programs were published, “the debate would be over. These kids cannot write in English.” In American society, the mastery of English is extremely important if one wishes to enter the job market or higher education. This was proven by the Labor Department of the state of Texas, which surveyed Vietnamese immigrants and found that those without English skills earned only the minimum wage, while those who had become fluent averaged $14 an hour.

Aside from the affect on students themselves, having large numbers of citizens not fluent English speakers can lead to balkanization for the nation as a whole. This is evidenced by the separatist movement in Quebec, which is fueled by the linguistic differences between the Quebecois and the English-speaking Canadians.

America always has received tremendous numbers of immigrants, but in the past all of them were placed in English language schools, be they Poles, Germans or Russians. With the advent of bilingual education, this is no longer the case and these students are placed at a severe disadvantage. Martin Gross, the author of The End of Sanity: Social and Cultural Madness in America, wrote, “Visualize a young Mario Cuomo getting his primary tutoring in Italian, the language then spoken at home, forgoing his chance to become the eloquent governor of New York that he was.”

Bilingual education has not served the goal it was created for, and therefore the program should be ended. The proposition to have a one-year English immersion program would much better serve the students. The narrow special interest group of teachers’ unions should not stand in the way and continue to force children against their will, and their parents’ wills, into bilingual education classes.

-Peter Brownfeld is a columnist for The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia.

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