Monday, May 9, 2011

Bilingual Education: The Hidden Truth

The benefits of bilingual education

By: César Veras

Bilingual education is something of much controversy in the field of teaching and learning.  With a large population of students in schools all across the country being proficient in home based spanish but not understanding a word of english, the debate revolves around the everlasting conflict of immigration: should the government accommodate to students, or should students assimilate to the norm of learning and mastering the english language that all American natives go through.  Of course, this conversation is a lot more nuanced than it appears.  Ingrained in these policies are preconceived notions of race and class relations.  In order for political figures to understand the benefits of bilingual education, they need to divorce these notions and look at bilingual education at it's face value, the key for future prosperity in the globally connected world we live in today.  As the world becomes smaller, I don't see how politicians can afford to pass on this great opportunity of funding programs that will promote, and will take on the formidable task of educating all these immigrants, simultaneously converting them into huge assets to the United States economy.  

However, we don't live in a pragmatic country divorced of racial and class inequality.  The intersection of these issues is at the peril of why our country has gone from having the potential of providing students with a top-notch bilingual education, to passing racist laws like the ones in Arizona and Proposition 227 in California.  The potential these students can provide to the United States work force is not only immense, but also something that may directly impact the achievement gap.  Everyday, we are seeing how Latin@s are falling behind in the academic field and how drop out rates are a set back to the positive impact these students can have on this country.  Whether it is possible for politicians to envision these benefits is another question which requires much analysis and understanding.  However, this blind approach says a lot about society as a whole in the first place.  Politicians at the end of the day appeal to the people.  As Alexander Toqueville once articulated it, the "tyranny of the majority" is what fuels this country to make the decisions it makes.  The majority of this country is still a white middle class population, who also hold a lot of influence in Washington and have more resources to make their voices be heard on a national and state wide level.  This same group is also under constant fear of the status quo going awry, making this country become something they're not comfortable with nor willing to accept.  

The following video shows a small recap on the struggles the implementation of bilingual education has had to endure.  

Before this law came into effect, students who did not speak english were either placed in special education classes, or disregarded and forgotten on the side of the classroom.  They were viewed upon as people who need to learn the english language in order to have any type of success inside the United States.  However, what politicians are failing to understand is that, okay, there were generations of people before who were able to adapt and learn the english language and who are successful today, but this does not mean that we did not do a disservice to those people as well and that they might have been better off today if these resources were readily available to them in the past.  

Then we have a state like California which 25 years ago was regarded as the most educated state in the country, had the bragging rights of saying it had the most expansive, productive, and efficient education system in the world, to now being in the bottom of the nation's educational rankings with outstanding dropout rates and fingers immediately pointed at the Latin@ student population.  Because of these facts, there has been a national debate to figure out why our education system is failing in such a drastic manner, and this leads us to Proposition 227 which of course is the attempt to make education english only for all students in the state of California.  "Proposition 227 sounded reasonable to the unconcerned person. The conventional view of public education was not debated. Its underlying constitutive metaphors were not contested, so by default, they were accepted" ("Brown Tide Rising", Santa Ana).  Yet the unconcerned person did not care to think about the burdens this law can put on english language learner students.  

Below is a video which highlights the possibilities of the life of any immigrant student who does not speak english and is faced with proposition 227 in California.  

What this video exemplifies is not only the struggles these students face on a daily basis, but most importantly the fact that the government is not doing anything in order to ease these issues a little bit more.  They are not doing their part in helping Latin@s become productive citizens.  Instead, the only work they can acquire when they find it too difficult to move up the education system is low paying jobs that help the economy and the country as a whole yet degrades and downplays the impact the Latin@ community can have on the United States.  Because of these reasons, "Proposition 227 was rejected by all prestigious educational or linguistic organizations, on the basis of two counterintuitive facts: One, adults and early adolescents learn second lan­guages more quickly than young children. Two, language acquisition is a process altogether distinct from those involved in educational advancement"  (Santa Ana).  And I read all this and wonder, what will be of Sonny and his family?  

After delving into the aspects of the bilingual education discourse that make this discussion nuanced and complex in nature, the bottom line will always be the same, bilingual education discourse is never all about bilingual education but more about state ideologies that influence the greater vision of the people.  Like Norma Gonzalez states, "identities are formed as subjects of the ideological apparatuses of the state. There is no room for the individual self outside of ideological forma­tions, or for agency, as the interpellation project is ongoing and ever-present. Applied to language, this type of ideology is unconscious, but it maintains social stratification via particular speech practices."  These speech practices is what politicians and the people are trying so hard to keep.  A change in the status quo, which would identify and accept the benefits of bilingual education and enforce those benefits, is not appealing to the people in power.  Therefore, bilingual education is not considered in California because it lacks educational benefits, since the contrary has been proven, rather bilingual education is not considered because of the people it would be benefiting which are minorities of Latin@ background.  


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