Idea of dual-language education challenged

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 8 14:17:44 UTC 2007

Dual-language education doesn't work
By Bob Zaslavsky

Second only to the conflict in Iraq--of which the purposelessness and
corruption become more evident to more persons by the day--the issue that
registers on polls as the most important to people's choice of
presidential candidate is immigration policy. Moreover, this is
intertwined inextricably with the growing movement to establish English
legally as our official language. Typically, the spokespersons on both
sides of this web of concerns speak viscerally rather than rationally.

Since many of those who promote either a hard-nosed anti-immigration
policy or an English-only society are themselves woefully lacking in
knowledge of the history and legal structure of our country, or are inept
and incompetent speakers of the very language that they claim to want to
safeguard, one must conclude that they are motivated by something other
than a concern for the preservation of the purity of either our culture or
our language. That something seems to be a mindless and shallow jingoistic

This is unfortunate because it largely has stripped the legitimacy from
both the movement to establish immigration within reasonable limits as
well as the movement to establish English as our national language. The
unfair conflation of the anti-immigration forces and the English-only
proponents has infected the one with a sophistic blurring of the
distinction between legal and illegal immigration and the other with an
insidious anti-ethnicism. The emotional charge that these issues carry is

Yet, it is unreasonable in a country that requires minimum English
proficiency for citizenship to require ballots in any language other than
English. I know of no other nation where such an indulgence would be given
a hearing, let alone be treated as credible. Also, anyone walking through
Midtown Atlanta who becomes lost and randomly asks directions, especially
of laborers, whom we expect to know the town in which they work, finds
that the number of those who cannot speak English is frustratingly

Additionally--and forgive me if I seem to belabor this--we teachers, who
have experienced the fruits of dual-language education, realize what an
utter failure it is. Indeed, since I have allowed students to submit
simultaneous essays in English and in their home language (when it was one
of those of which I had a good reading knowledge), I discovered that many
students in high school, after years of dual-language educationand this
included primarily students who were born herewere functionally illiterate
in both languages and that I had to make as many corrections to the
written assignments in their home language as I did to those in English.

This contrasts in my mind with the experience of my grandparents, who
learned English without special classes, by immersion in the life of this,
their new, country. The deficiency of dual-language education is no
secret. Especially not to savvy immigrant parents. The most pervasive
example in our system involves Hispanic studentswhom I single out, not
from any anti-Hispanicism, but because they are our most numerically
massive example. At the last high school at which I taught (in Texas), I
was assigned to teach a ninth-grade remedial English class. When I saw
that all the students spoke English, I asked them if they knew why they
were in such a class. They did not. I assumed, therefore, that they must
have come to this country relatively recently, but all of them assured me
that they were native born. In my mind, at that point, I converted the
class into a standard class (in which, by the way, they did no worseand no
betterthan native Anglo students).

When I talked this over with a Hispanic friend, he told me that this was
the predictable result of dual-language education--namely, that students
are shuttled from one substandard class to the next, year after year. He
added that when informed Hispanic parents enroll their children in school
they tend to answer no to the enrollment forms question Is any language
other than English spoken at home? In short, the lesson that we should
learn both from our own experience and from the experience of other
nations is that the lack of a national language leads to the lack of
linguistic competence in both native and transplanted citizens.

We need to make English our official language and to monitor the movement
of persons into and out of the nationnot as a way of excluding anyone, but
as the only sure way of producing inclusiveness for all.

Bob Zaslavsky is a retired teacher of our much-neglected humanities.


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