Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs

Stan & Sandy Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at
Mon Jul 19 19:57:45 UTC 2004

Maybe most people place more value in getting ahead economically than on
preserving their language.  Here in Brazil the government promotes bilingual
education for the Indians.  Nevertheless, in almost all the villages I've
been to, both parents and children are adamant that they prefer "white
teachers", who teach only in Portuguese.  This is true even in villages
where the kids are monolingual Indian language speakers.  This makes me sad,
but what right do I have to tell them to do otherwise?  I put my children in
an English school for the same reasons the Indians put their children in
Portuguese school.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2004 10:04 AM
Subject: Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs

> >From the NYTimes, July 14, 2004
> Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs
> ON a sultry night in late June, when the school term was nearly over, two
> dozen parents gathered in a church basement in Brooklyn to talk about what
> a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican
> Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of Bushwick,
> they were the people bilingual education supposedly serves. Instead, one
> after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to
> a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and
> upward mobility.
> These parents were not gadflies and chronic complainers. Patient and
> quiet, the women clad in faded shifts, the men shod in oil-stained work
> boots, they exuded the aura of people reluctant to challenge authority,
> perhaps because they ascribed wisdom to people with titles, or perhaps
> because they feared retribution. With the ballast of one another's
> company, however, they spoke. Gregorio Ortega spoke about how his son
> Geraldo, born right here in New York, had been abruptly transferred into a
> bilingual class at P.S. 123 after spending his first four school years
> learning in English. Irene De Leon spoke of her daughter being placed in a
> bilingual section at P.S. 123 despite having done her first year and a
> half of school in English when the family lived in Queens. Benerita
> Salsedo wondered aloud why, after four years in the bilingual track at
> P.S. 145 in Bushwick, her son Alberto still had not moved into English
> classes. Her two other children were also stuck in bilingual limbo.
> "I'm very angry," Ms. Salsedo said in Spanish through an interpreter. "The
> school is supposed to do what's best for the kids. The school puts my
> kids' education in danger, because everything is in English here." And the
> children had no trouble expressing their own frustration lucidly enough in
> English. "I ask the teacher all the time if I can be in English class,"
> said Alberto, a 9-year-old who will enter sixth grade in the fall.  "The
> teacher just says no." For the time being, Alberto added, he learns
> English by watching the Cartoon Network.
> Listening to this litany, I experienced the sensation that Yogi Berra
> memorably called "dj vu all over again." Five years earlier, in the
> rectory of another church only a few blocks away, another group of
> immigrant parents voiced the identical complaints about bilingual
> education - that the public schools shunted Latino children into it even
> if those pupils had been born in the United States and previously educated
> in English, and that once the child was in the bilingual track it was
> almost impossible to get out. An association of Bushwick parents,
> virtually all of them Hispanic immigrants, had gone as far as suing in
> State Supreme Court in a futile attempt to reform the bilingual program in
> local schools.
> Back then, the school system's many critics ascribed the bilingual fiasco
> in Bushwick largely to the failed policy of decentralization. What
> "community control" meant then in Bushwick was a school district dominated
> by the neighborhood's City Council member, Victor Robles ( now the city
> clerk). School jobs, including those in bilingual education, were
> patronage plums.
> For years, bilingual education coasted along on its perception as a
> virtual civil right for Hispanics. Maybe such a reputation was deserved 30
> years ago, when the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund sued and won a consent
> decree requiring that New York City offer bilingual education. But as the
> innovation hardened into an orthodoxy, and as a sort of employment niche
> grew for bilingual educators and bureaucrats, the idealistic veneer began
> to wear away.
> The grievances of Bushwick's parents point at an overlooked truth. The
> foes of bilingual education, at least as practiced in New York, are not
> Eurocentric nativists but Spanish-speaking immigrants who struggled to
> reach the United States and struggle still at low-wage jobs to stay here
> so that their children can acquire and rise with an American education,
> very much including fluency in English.
> As a candidate for mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg assailed the status quo in
> bilingual education and called for its replacement with English-immersion
> classes. His pledge rested on firm ground. Reports commissioned by
> Chancellor Ramon Cortines in 1994 and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2000
> concluded that children qualified for mainstream classes more rapidly
> coming from English as a Second Language programs than from bilingual
> ones. E.S.L. classes take place largely in English; bilingual education in
> the students' native language.
> With decentralization dismantled in 2002 and a hand-picked school
> chancellor installed the next year, Mayor Bloomberg seemingly backed away.
> Diana Lam, the top aide to Chancellor Joel I. Klein until her ouster, was
> both a product and proponent of traditional bilingualism. The mayor now
> emphasizes improving the existing bilingual program, despite its
> demonstrable shortcomings.
> WITH Ms. Lam gone, perhaps the mayor and Mr. Klein can fulfill their
> erstwhile pledges. Carmen Faria, the new deputy chancellor, yesterday
> promised large-scale reforms beginning next September. What she means by
> that is not junking bilingual education or even curtailing its use as much
> as improving teacher training and incorporating clear performance
> standards and oversight. Yet the Department of Education already has a
> highly successful model of E.S.L. instruction in two existing high
> schools, Bronx International and La Guardia International.
> "Bushwick is a test case of how bilingual programs are actually being
> implemented," said Michael Gecan, a national organizer for the Industrial
> Areas Foundation, which has worked closely with parents there for more
> than a decade. "We have great confidence in Klein. We've found him to be
> very responsive and very aggressive. But we've been concerned about the
> bilingual effort. This is a large vestige of the old school culture. It
> remains in the system. And it's intensively guarded by the local
> politicians and the teachers' union."
> In one respect, though, the bilingual program in Bushwick did subscribe to
> the English-immersion approach. Parent after parent in the church basement
> last month remembered receiving, and then naively signing, a letter from
> school that apparently constituted their agreement to having a child put
> into bilingual classes. The letter, recalled these Spanish-speaking
> parents, was written only in English.
> E-mail: sgfreedman at

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