Bilingual Education research

Rudolph C Troike rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU
Tue Jun 5 09:07:34 UTC 2001

There IS a lot of research on bilingual education (I've directed several
dissertations on it), which is consistently ignored in all of the debate
and legislative moves because it is more convenient to operate on
anecdotal and visceral bases. Virtually none of the public debate pays any
attention to the available research (there is a national organization of
bilingual educators, and the Journal of Bilingual Research which they
sponsor). Some years ago, when I was interviewed by Time for a story on
bilingual education, a whole column of the story containing my discussion
was deleted by an editor somewhere between Friday night when the wording
was confirmed by phone and Monday when it appeared. The only part of my
truncated interview that was left was my statement that it takes 5 to 6
years to gain competence in academic English, to which the editorial
question was posed, "Can we afford to wait that long?"

        So much for journalistic honesty and pursuit of truth.

        I have a long article summarizing research that I can e-mail to
anyone interested (I assume that no one wants it cluttering up the list).
I'm a DOS-era troglodyte who does not have a web page, so I can't post it
and give you a url to retrieve it. Suffice it to say that a good BE
program has much more long-lasting effects on academic achievement AND
supports maintenance of the heritage language. A bad BE program, like any
bad program, has negative effects. But because we have bad math and
reading programs, no one has argued that we should give up teaching math
and reading. It has always seemed the height (or depth) of stupidity that
we should spend billions of dollars every year exterminating the native
linguistic competence in dozens of languages that children bring to
school, and then spend billions more later unsuccessfully trying to teach
some "foreign" language to students in high school and college, leaving us
vulnerable as a monolingual nation in a multilingual world (the shooting
down of the missionary in Peru is only the latest example of what our
monolingual isolationism can produce). Maintenance bilingual education
would be an economic and cultural boon to this country, by producing
competent and literate individuals who could help us compete in the global
marketplace, and could provide lenses to help us understand other peoples,
ideas, and cultures, as well as the converse. But as Beverly pointed out,
most so-called BE programs in this country have in fact been what a former
student of mine called "humane linguicide", designed solely to provide a
bridge into English, after which the native language is abandoned, there
never having been any serious commitment to it. It is only public paranoia
about having any other language than English used in the holy temple of
the school classroom that has prevented any serious understanding of this
whole topic, and made it an issue for political debate.
        Incidentally, it was widely reported that one reason so many
Hispanics in California voted against BE was that they feared an Anglo
backlash if they didn't.
        The depth of popular xenophobia toward other languages was brought
home to me one day when in a cafeteria line I heard a woman behind me, who
was evidently a waitress in a local cafe, proudly telling her friends that
she had told a table of customers "jabbering in some other language" that
she would not serve them unless they spoke English.
        When Chinese becomes the dominant economic language of the world
in the future, will we be prepared?


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