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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Essay on History of Bilingual Education

In 1990, the United States Census data stated that there are approximately 32 million speakers of languages other than English in the country.  This represented 13.8% of the total population at the time. There is no denying that English is still the language spoken by the majority.  However, the presence of 32 million individuals who speak a language other than English is indicates that the United States is a multilingual nation with English as its dominant language. 

Language diversity is indeed a phenomenon in the United States. This phenomenon is bound to continue in the future as the wave of immigration continues.  As a country known for being a nation of immigrants, it is to be expected that the influx of languages from all over the world will continue to reach the shore of the United States.  According to Sonia Nieto (1992), “immigration is not a phenomenon of the past…It is an experience that begins anew everyday that planes land, ships reach our shores and people make their way on foot to borders…The United States…is also a living nation of immigrants even today.” (p.333)   

Language diversity brought about by immigration was a major government concern prior to the 20th Century.  Language diversity implies isolation, separation, and distinction.  Allowing it to continue would be contrary to the goal of government which is to encourage the immigrants to assimilate and to join the mainstream society.  Thus, it became the policy in schools to require the use of English language during the 19th Century.  (Baker & Jones 546) For instance in the 19th Century, the government sponsored missionaries to educate Native American tribes in the use of English.  This was a reflection of the goal of the government to transform the Native American culture.  According to the Indian Peace Commission Report of 1868, language difference was cited as the major source of friction between the whites and the Indians and so emphasis is made on teaching English as means to reduce hostilities and civilize the Native Americans. 

The United States government also used the same policy after the defeat of Mexico in 1848.  In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, portions of Mexico’s territory were given to United States.  The Mexican population in these territories was also given US citizenship. As a policy in these territories, English-only restrictions were imposed in public schools.  Likewise, in 1855, the California Bureau of Instruction required that the medium of instruction in schools should be English.  Likewise, in 1906, the National Act of Texas was passed which required the immigrants to speak only in English to start their process of naturalization. 

Because of these directives, it became the policy in schools to discourage the use of language other than English in schools.  These policies were criticized by historian Gilbert Gonzalez who said that it had become the purpose of public education system to strip the Mexican American children of their heritage and to “Americanize the child in a controlled linguistic and cultural environment…” (Stanley William Rothstein 100)

These educational policies prohibiting use of language in schools other than English continued until the 1920s.  Schools adopted the attitude of “sink or swim” attitude which meant that the students should cope with the method of instruction otherwise they will be left behind. (Maria Estela Brisk 7)  Teachers also punished their students who conversed in language other than English. (Brisk 7) The idea at the time was that knowledge of the English language is synonymous with intellectual superiority while bilingualism only fosters mental retardation.  It was also the view among the use of foreign language at home among immigrants is responsible for inferior intelligence among immigrants. 

The first case which had a profound and lasting impact in removing the restriction in teaching a language other than English was the 1923 case of Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 US 390.  In this case, a law was passed in Nebraska in 1919 which prohibited the teaching of foreign language to school children before high school.  Plaintiff Meyer was charged for violating the Nebraska law when he taught the subject of reading in the German language.  Upholding the privacy right of the parents to shape the education of their children, the Supreme Court said that the Nebraska law is unconstitutional and violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  

The second case that helped pave the way towards bilingual education is the case of Farrington v. Tokushige, 273 US 284 (1927).  In this case, a law was passed by the Hawaii legislature which effectively regulated the hours, textbooks, curriculum of schools that taught in the native language of the students.  It also banned schools that teach language other than English to operate without a permit.  In declaring this law unconstitutional, the Supreme Court said that that the amount of regulation of private schools was unreasonable and goes beyond the mere regulation of privately supported schools.  It also said that parents had the right to exercise control over how their children were educated without restrictions that were unrelated to any rational state goal.

The most influential case that led to the growth of bilingual education is the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Black children were denied admission to public schools being attended by white children under laws that mandate segregation according to race.  According to the plaintiff, the policy of segregation in public schools deprived them of equal protection under the law which is guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment.   They argued that segregated public schools are not equal and can never be equal and violated their equal protection right.  Defendants, however, contend that the doctrine of equality is satisfied because black and white schools are provided substantially equal facilities, equal buildings, equal curricula and equal qualifications even if these facilities are kept separate. 

In deciding the issue of whether the segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives the children of minority groups the equal protection under the law, the Supreme Court answered in the affirmative. The Supreme Court commenced its decision by emphasizing the importance of public education in a country.  It stressed that education is perhaps the most important responsibility of state and local governments.  The requirement of separation between black and white students who are of similar age and qualification solely because of their race creates a feeling of inferiority in their status in the community.  If this policy will be continued, it will have the effect of retarding the educational and mental development of the black children and depriving these children of some benefits that they will receive in an integrated school system.  In conclusion, the Supreme Court emphatically declared that in the field of public education, the “separate but equal” doctrine had no place.  Separate facilities are inherently unequal and these children are deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Brown v. Board of Education case is one of the most important cases in the American history.  It is a symbol of the decades of struggle by African Americans to end racial prejudice and racial hatred.  The African American community used the momentum they gained from this decision as leverage in support of their campaign towards the removal of discrimination in the society.  The efforts of the African American movement succeeded with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act states that “no person in the United States shall be excluded from participation in or otherwise discriminated against on the ground of race, color, or national origin under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The law also authorized the federal agency that provides funding to the educational institutions to cease from giving funds if these school districts are found to have maintained the policy of segregation.  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was used as basis for removing restriction in the use of language other than English in schools.  It effectively removed the barriers against the minority in seeking access to equal opportunities in education.

Subsequently, the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 was passed.  The law is the culmination of the efforts by the minorities to improve their educational opportunities and to incorporate the children of immigrants into the American society.  Under this law, grant-in-aid programs were made available to educational institutions which promoted research and experimentation on educational programs who speak languages other than English.  In effect, the law provided an incentive for educational institutions to establish programs that will meet the special educational needs of children who do not speak the English language. 

It is worth mentioning that despite the passage of this law, there was no concrete method established to address the educational failure in public schools.  Specifically, there was nothing in the law that addressed how the students’ native-language will be taught in relation to the child’s immersion to the English language.  This resulted in differences in strategies as to how the child’s needs may be better addressed.  According to  Altarriba & Herredia, “However, the Act did not specify a program/instructional approach, mandate or specify a method for the education of language minority students which has allowed for various interpretations of what constitutes ‘bilingual education’ and contributed to much of the current confusion surrounding bilingual education.” (Altarriba & Herredia 221) Subsequently, there were those opened programs such as the transitional bilingual education which is a temporary program that allows for the students’ immersion in English-speaking classrooms once the program is completed.  For instance, Massachusetts was the first to pass the Transitional Bilingual Education Act of 1971. (Brisk 9)    Others opted for the bilingual-bicultural education programs which are programs designed to teach the students both in their native language and the English language.  Others opened for programs called dual-immersion programs in which the English-speaking and non-English speaking students were taught different languages.

The case of Lau v. Nichols, 414 US 563 (1974), affirmed that the responsibility to provide the necessary programs and accommodations to students falls upon the school.  In this case, a group of Chinese students in San Francisco filed a case against the officials of their school.  They alleged that they were denied equal opportunity to education when English was a medium of instruction used in their school.  The Supreme Court declared that the practice of the teachers in San Francisco is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The decision added that the responsibility to overcome language barriers that impede full integration of students falls on the students.

By virtue of the ruling in the Lau case which ordered the school district “to apply its expertise to the problem and rectify the situation,” the Office of the Civil Rights published the Lau Remedies in 1975.  It is a set of guidelines for school districts who speak a language other than English. (Brisk 9)  The Lau Remedies provided for program options and standards for teacher preparation. (Brisk 9) 

In 1994, the Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA) was passed.  The purpose of the IASA is to educate the children with limited English proficiency to meet the rigorous standards for academic performance by developing bilingual skills and multicultural understanding.  This law is significant for bilingual education because for the first time bilingual education was not only seen as a means for the children to develop proficiency in the English language but also to “develop our Nation’s national language resources, thus promoting our Nation’s competitiveness in the global economy.” (IASA)

In the same year, however, Proposition 187 was introduced by Republican Dick Mountjoy under the “Save Our State Initiative.”  This proposition which prohibited the illegal immigrants from using social services, health care and public education in the US State of California, was submitted to the people for approval.  The voters approved the proposition in 1994 but it was subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court. Proposition 187 signaled the start of the wave of attacks against the bilingual education.

In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) was passed.  It provided for standards-based educational reform which is based on the theory that the setting of high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve outcomes in education.  Researchers say that the NCLBA led to the demise of the bilingual education.  While this law did not expressly ban or prohibit bilingual education, it imposed a high-stakes testing that required the adoption of English-only instruction. With this law, rapid teaching of English will be given priority and annual English assessments will be required to meet the requirements of the law.

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