Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bilingual Education in a Different Context

Elizabeth Baik

Proposition 227 ended bilingual education in the state of California, replacing it with an English-immersion model. It may have been well-meaning with intentions to assist immigrants to better assimilate and partake in society, pursue the American Dream, and ultimately climb that ladder. However, Marta P. Baltodano disagrees that Ron Unz's political agenda was so altruistic. His "English for the Children" campaign and the language policies it promoted were hegemonic in the sense that they were "tools that shape the lives of linguistic minoritity communities" (Baltodano, p247). By altering the educational systems in schools, which in according to Gramsci, are "one of the major institutions where the dominant society achieves the consensual process for the subordination of minority groups, through legitimating those values that assure continued domination" (Baltodano, p251), politicians effectively disabled Latino immigrants. Their ability to mobilize and become proactive for or against policies in the political sphere became debilitated. And as Richard Rodriguez relates in his account titled "Aria," the divide between 'public' and 'private' built a wall between Latino immigrants and society, resulting in the precise opposite of what the policy supposedly intended to achieve. Since its passing in 1998, it shaped language ideologies, subsequent educational policies, and linguistic practices.

North County Times, a newspaper that serves north San Diego and southwest Riverside counties in California published an article titled "Proposition 227: 10 years later" by Edward Sifuentes in 2008 reflecting the consequences and lasting influences of Proposition 227. The article provides insight into the claims of both parties: educators that say the policy should be reversed and changed; and supporters that insists that the law works based on improved test scores. The abovementioned Ron Unz said, "The whole (bilingual education) program was crazy and once it disappeard, everybody was happy about it [...] If you double the test scores, that's pretty good." However, one doe snot have a sound argument when it is solely based on test scores, which reflect almost nothing besides how well one can take the particular test. The article makes reference to a research that "concluded that students in bilingual education programs generally acquire more English than children in all-English programs." According to those that study and research bilingual education, the English-immersion program of Proposition 227, which requries non-English speakers to take a 'crash' course that intends to educate Limited English Proficiency in a year by instructing overwhelmingly in English, is "based on ideoogy, not science." In other words, English-immersion is not consistent with the results of numerous researches, but rather based on misled layman notion that one can acquire a language by being exposed to it. The lasting effects of Proposition 227 are beyond the superficial test scores and debate over its effectiveness. The most important consequence is its domino effect, causing other states to eliminate bilingual education as well. Arizona and Massachusetts approved an English immersion education law in 2000 and 2002 respectively, while Colorado and Oregon had votes against and failed to do so in 2006 and 2008 respectively. The article ends with a reflection on the current situation, in which there is discontent with the English-only law and advocacy for change, but "there appeared to be little agreement on how to do it." This is the biggest dilemma. English-only may not be the solution, but it is the best option and nobody has yet to think of a better one to replace it.

To slightly go on a tangent, and probably even a stretch, what if the notion that English is the dominant language in America, and even around the globe, does not exist? To go even further, what if the ideology that auditory language is the norm in society does not exist? Let us say there is a hypothetical country where most people are hard of hearing or deaf. The dominant mode of communication here is sign language. There is a law similar to Proposition 227, that eliminates 'bilingual' education of sign language for immigrants who are only proficient in spoken language. Immigrants come into this country and want to learn sign language, but all they see is this.

Linguistically talented people may be able to pick up some words and a general feel of how sign language is communicated. However, it is near impossible for somebody to become proficient in sign language by only being instructed in sign language. Now consider this sign language lesson that integrates spoken and written English.
There is no doubt that the use of spoken and written language is beneficial, if not vital, in learning sign language. In extension, elimination of bilingual education and single-language-immersion is a theory that does work in practice.

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