Push for Official Language Would Challenge Bilingual Schools

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sat Jan 27 14:42:59 UTC 2007

Push for Official Language Would Challenge Bilingual Schools

By Paul Kita

(AXcess News) Washington - Bolstered by recent polling evidence,
politicians and a pro-English action group are pushing for the adoption of
English as the official U.S. language. Former Speaker of the House Newt
Gingrich spoke at a ProEnglish press conference Wednesday, focusing his
criticisms on lax immigration standards and bilingual education. "I think
the federal government should finance a nationwide program, working with
the states, so that anybody who is legally here who needs to be immersed
in English has an opportunity to learn the language as rapidly as possible
and have the best possible future," Gingrich said.

Proposed legislation would require the federal government to conduct
business in English but would not place restrictions on language in
businesses. Specifically, Gingrich said he recommended legislation
requiring an English test as part of becoming a U.S. citizen, rescinding
current law requiring the government to offer access to documents in
multiple languages and the conversion of bilingual schools into "immersion
centers." "Our 20 year experiment with bilingual education has been a
disaster and we should focus on immersion in English," Gringrich said.
"Immigrant parents want their children to do better than they did back
home - that's a major reason for coming here ... and that inherently
requires mastering English."

Immersion centers would preserve the English language, said K.C. McAlpin,
executive director of ProEnglish, by teaching core classes like math,
science and history in English while requiring non-English speakers to
take supplementary English courses. Bilingual schools introduce English
gradually and teach students some subjects in their native languages for a
time. An immersion center would require students to practice more English
than a bilingual school, McAlpin said, meaning they would perform better
on English proficiency tests. However, some critics claim immersion
centers would promote a "sink or swim" learning environment.

"This doesn't work for all children - especially those from poor
communities coming from backgrounds with parents who are less educated,"
said James Crawford, president of the Institute for Language and Education
Policy. With the current bilingual school system, Crawford said more
people are learning English at a faster rate. Crawford said the issue is
less about education than politics. "This is a mean-spirited effort to
punish immigrants," he said. "Every time there is a backlash against
immigrants, we see this issue appear." Most students are already immersed
in English, surrounded by the language in the world between home and
school, said Christopher Loya, principal at Davis Bilingual Magnet School
in Tucson, Ariz.

"The goal of dual-language education is teaching students to be
bi-literary," Loya said. "Bilingual programs are not anti-English, they're
English-plus." Loya said his school has not been directly affected by a
proposition supported by more than 70 percent of voters last year making
English Arizona's official language. Although Arizona's Nogales Unified
School District No. 1 switched to an English-immersion curriculum after
the vote, Superintendent Guillermo Zamudio said he cannot compare test
results to the district's bilingual days because state education
requirements have changed. Sixty percent of Americans said Congress and
the president are not doing enough to protect English's role as the
common, unifying language of the United States, according to data compiled
by Zogby International.

"Anybody who comes here ought to make the crucible or the assimilation
process to be an American," said Arizona state Rep. Russell K. Pearce,
R-Mesa, the chief proponent of the state's ballot measure. "But that
doesn't mean they can't maintain their own culture at home." If the
federal government were to make English the official language, state
governments could still decide whether to implement the legislation. Two
Republican senators, Steve King, Iowa, and James Inhofe, Okla., plan to
introduce legislation on the matter later this year.

Source: Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

Date:  January 25, 2007 Section: National News


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