Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs

M. Paul Lewis Paul_Lewis at
Mon Jul 19 20:17:15 UTC 2004

Stan and all:

I think the phenomenon described in the NY Times article and that you (and
I) have observed elsewhere is a common one - parents want for their
children what they perceive will be best for them.

What is missing, however, is the opportunity for those parents to have a
larger perspective on "what is best". Maintenance of the L1 along with the
acquisition of an L2 is enriching and empowering.  The acquisition of L2 at
the expense of L1 is impoverishing though it may, for the moment, seem like
the best option.

Informing individuals and the community as a whole of the value of and
options for language maintenance is what we CAN do without imposing a
decision from the outside. With adequate information and education about
language and, in particular, the value of L1, many parents would make
different choices.

Your kids attending an English school is a choice for L1 maintenance in
your case while at the same time, I know (because I know you),  you are
also encouraging and providing opportunities for your children to acquire
and use a second language in a variety of contexts.  That is a choice that
many parents don't think they have - and in many cases don't have --
because policy and practice forces them towards language shift.

M. Paul Lewis

             "Stan & Sandy
             <stan-sandy_anonb                                          To
             y at>                <lgpolicy-list at>
             Sent by:                                                   cc
             st at                                     Subject
             .edu                      Re: Latino Parents Decry Bilingual

             07/19/2004 02:57

             Please respond to
             lgpolicy-list at cca

Maybe most people place more value in getting ahead economically than on
preserving their language.  Here in Brazil the government promotes
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
but what right do I have to tell them to do otherwise?  I put my children
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
> a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican
> Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of
> 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
> 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
> 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.
> 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
> children had no trouble expressing their own frustration lucidly enough
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> years ago, when the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund sued and won a
> 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
> the students' native language.
> With decentralization dismantled in 2002 and a hand-picked school
> chancellor installed the next year, Mayor Bloomberg seemingly backed
> 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
> 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
> the English-immersion approach. Parent after parent in the church
> 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

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list