Bilingual Education the United States of America Term Paper

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Bilingual Education

The United States of America is home to a large variety of cultures and languages. This is the result of immigration, and also of many generations of immigrants who have preserved the habits and languages of their home country. This has important implications for the world of language teaching. Children from cultures whose native language is not English, for example, tend to struggle in schools where the only medium of instruction is English. In this way a need arises to uplift these children and give them the same educational opportunities and quality of teaching as English-speaking American children. On the basis of this perceived need arose the paradigm of bilingual education. It is interesting to not that not all critics and educators see this as a positive development. Indeed, so many are against it that "anti-bilingual" education has become their official position. Below is a consideration of bilingual education, its history, the controversy associated with it, and some considerations for the future.

Bilingual Education: Background and History

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Bilingual education, as mentioned above, was created in response to the needs of early immigrants. The first bilingual education law was adopted by the state of Ohio as early as 1839 (Rethinking Schools, 2002). This law focused on providing German-English teaching if parents particularly requested it for their children. In 1847, Louisiana followed with an identical law for French and English. In 1950, New Mexico authorized a law for Spanish and English. This trend grew throughout the United States towards the end of the 19th century, when similar laws were passed by about a dozen states. It is interesting to note that the popularity of this trend grew to the extent that some bilingual education was provided without waiting for state laws to pass. Indeed, some provided bilingual education in languages such as Norwegian, Italian, Polish, Czech, and Cherokee (Rethinking Schools, 2002).

Term Paper on Bilingual Education the United States of America Assignment

The period at the end of the 18th century was a fruitful time for bilingual education. It is reported that 600,000 primary school students from both public and parochial schools were enrolled in programs that included at least some instruction in German; more than those receiving today's Spanish-English instruction. World War I was drove a change in the arena of bilingual instruction.

English-only instruction was viewed as necessary as a result of political upheaval. Politicians saw it as their duty to ensure the loyalty of German as well as other non-English speaking Americans by implementing English-only instruction laws. The aim was to repress any natively German disloyalty that might result from the war. Some states even banned studying foreign languages during the early grades in their attempt to "Americanize" all foreign cultures within the local borders. The result is that bilingual education was mostly eradicated by the middle of the 1920's (Rethinking Schools, 2002).

Problems related to this paradigm however soon began to reveal themselves. LEP students for example began to fall behind as a result of their lack of language skills in English-only classrooms. These students also began to increasingly drop out from schools, resulting in a lack of work skills and a rising unemployment level in the country.

An attempt to remedy this state of affairs was finally implemented by means of the Bilingual Education at of 1968. Once again, this was a period of growing immigration and increasing civil rights movements. The rights of the individual once again took precedence over collective and outdated political issues. Federal funding encouraged school districts towards a more inclusive native-language instruction paradigm. Bilingual education laws were once again enacted according to the mainly important needs of local communities. The use of other languages in the classroom was once again allowed.

Concomitantly with the understanding that English-only instruction had its shortcomings, the new focus on civil rights provided an incentive to also focus on the rights of non-native learners. These rights entailed the same quality of education. For LEP students, English-only education could not provide the same quality as for native speakers.

After the Supreme Court's decision in favor of overcoming language barriers in the classroom to provide equal opportunity education to all students, Congress approved the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974. While the same principle is supported both by this act and the Bilingual Education Act, no federal mandate was implemented for teaching LEP students, nor were specific methods required (Rethinking Schools, 2002). This provides school with a fair degree of freedom regarding the specific teaching methods that work best in each situation.

There is however a three-step test that the federal Office for Civil Rights can use to standardize the perceived quality of education programs to LEP students. The first step is to ensure the inclusion of research-based programs reviewed by experts in the field to verify their theoretical soundness. The second requirement is adequate resources in terms of staff, training and materials, and thirdly standards and procedures need to be in place to evaluate the program. This evaluation must then be assessed and modified on a continuous basis to ensure results (Rethinking Schools, 2002).

Currently, these measures to ensure targeted bilingual education are opposed by political actions such as California's Unz initiative and the anti-bilingual movement. Some feel that these are solely politically inspired and do not have the interests of learners, nor civil rights at heart. The American ideal is equal opportunities and rights for all. According to the proponents of bilingual education, anti-bilingual measurements do not support equal rights. Indeed, the history of English-only education has proved its ineffectiveness for providing equal opportunities for all. Despite this, the debate regarding the benefits of bilingual education continues to fire emotions throughout the world of American education. Examining the position of each side may shed some light on the issue.

Bilingual Education: Proponents

Stephen Krashen (2007) is one of the proponents of bilingual education. In the ERIC Digest, he suggests a variety of ways in which bilingual education can be beneficial for learners. Krashen's primary point of departure is the fact that young children receiving education in their primary language are provided with both knowledge and literacy in both English and the subject area of instruction. Primary language education provides these children with a basis from which to understand the English that they hear and read. In this way, first-language knowledge is transferred to the second language.

For children learning to read, Krashen translates this to the process of acquiring reading skills for the first time: children who learn to read for the first time do so more easily in their primary language. As soon as the skill is acquired, it becomes easier to also read in the second language, and hence to become increasingly proficient in the second language. After the initial skills are learned, Krashen suggests that intermediate students are ready to receive high quality ESL classes, and also subject matter teaching in English to a moderate degree.

Krashen identifies a quality bilingual program as including the following elements: Both ESL and first-language instruction, as well as sheltered subject matter teaching. Krashen emphasizes the need to provide children at the initial stages of their education with core instruction in their first language, and that this should be combined with ESL instruction. This provides them with a sound basis on which to build further education and to eventually successfully enter a system of education in either language. The proficiency that they build during these first years is then used to build targeted education in the second language to help children learn firstly in a sheltered context, while later moving to mainstream classes in the secondary. Krashen asserts that beginning schooling at the initial level with core education in the primary language while providing supplementary ESL education provides a brings between this level and eventual language competence to a sufficient degree so that children will be able to both understand and study in English. Krashen contrasts this with English-language immersion, by which children are forced as it were to "sink or swim." This is notoriously unsuccessful, as its main effect is adding to children's stress levels while providing little else.

Krashen also addresses the issue of opposition to bilingual education. The opposition often cite examples of second-language English speakers who have succeeded without bilingual education. Krashen however refutes this by contrasting the environment and opportunities open to the successful individuals with the general conditions in which the average LEP chid finds him- or herself. LEP children for example generally have little access to the English language beyond the school environment. They grow up in neighbourhoods where Spanish is the dominant language. In these environments they also have limited access to books. Second language speakers who claim to have success without bilingual education, in fact had advantages that are not generally within the grasp of LEP persons.

Krashen goes on to cite evidence that apply to languages other than Spanish in bilingual education. In non-Roman languages such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Turkish, evidence appears to suggest the success of bilingual programs in terms of transference of skills… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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