[lg policy] Researcher: State English learner program is 'subtractive education'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 18 14:46:46 UTC 2012

Researcher: State English learner program is 'subtractive education'

April 17, 2012 | By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

California educators continue trying to improve the instruction of
students whose language isn’t English. A state education law voters
passed 14 years ago limits school officials’ options. Activists who
also favored English as the national language of the United States
backed that ballot measure.

The default policy in California schools immerses students in English
without building on what they’ve learned in their native languages. At
the same time, a growing body of research underscores the benefits of
speaking two or more languages early in life. A talk last week called
“Bilingualism in Los Angeles and Orange County” at Cal State Fullerton
proved to be a place to drill down on the issue.

The presentation closed the university’s 21st annual linguistics
symposium, with topics that ranged from the endangered status of
Shiwilu - a language in the Peruvian Amazon - to the particular way
native Arabic speakers bend English pronunciation.
Fredric Field of Cal State Northridge began his academic talk by
explaining that the national languages of Germany and France aren’t
pure; They’re a jumble of other languages and dialects. He told the
audience that a Facebook posting he came across underlined a similar
issue for American English.

“There was a little thing I read today about English speakers wanting
all of the immigrants to go back home, and so all immigrant languages
are going to be abolished in the United States," he said. "And there’s
a Native American standing next to them, saying ‘I’ll help you pack’.”
Southern California’s centuries-old history of multilingualism, he
said, has included some painful chapters.

“Some of my students are kind of amazed at what was going on in Los
Angeles in L.A. Unified School District before the civil rights
movement when children were fined a penny a word for speaking Spanish
on the playground. They were assigned Spanish detention. This is L.A.,
this is not Texas or Arizona,” Field said.

Field reviewed stats from the 2000 U.S. Census to demonstrate how
different Southern California is from the rest of the United States.
At the time, over 80 percent of the national population spoke only
English. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, 45 percent spoke only

The rest spoke mostly Spanish, Field told the audience. Other
languages with more than 100,000 L.A. County speakers included
Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and Armenian. Orange County wasn't much
different. About 54 percent of its people spoke only English. That
means just under half spoke something else. Again, mostly Spanish,
Field said.

“Vietnamese was the third language and on down to number twenty,
Russian, he said. "Do realize that there were almost 4,000 Russian
speakers in Orange County. Isn’t that kind of interesting. Lots of
Germans, Romanians, Gujarati speakers – almost 6,000,” he said.
Gujarati is the Indian mother tongue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Why study local multilingualism? Field believes that just as the
impending loss of a language in a far away jungle or savannah raises
concerns, the death of students’ heritage languages in this country’s
classrooms should be prevented. He calls California’s English
immersion approach "subtractive education."

“The realities of a multilingual, multicultural California demonstrate
that if the educational system purports to prepare its children for
success – its children for success in the future – then the system
will look into a number of things, it will examine the consequences of
its subtractive educational policies and seriously look at language
maintenance of a child’s native language for the good of the nation
and the good of the child,” Field said.

Applauding Field’s talk from the front row was Cal State Fullerton
undergrad Josue Arceo. His parents are Mexican immigrants and he grew
up in Santa Ana and Mission Viejo. “My mom at first used to have that
idea that we should speak English primarily," said Arceo. "But as the
years went by, she did away with that and she saw that, regardless of
what her ideas [were], that we’re going to learn both, because of all
our relatives that speak Spanish to us,” Arceo said.

He remembers taking bilingual education classes before the state ban.
Now waivers and special programs in charter schools, for instance, are
the only way to teach multiple languages to young children, said USC
researcher Gisele Ragusa. “If we do it well and shelter their English
language development so they really do develop cognitive skills in
English and strong vocabulary and strong literacy skills, having
really good English language models from their teachers and peers,"
said Ragusa, "they will learn strong English.”

Ragusa said California’s 14 year-old English immersion policy isn’t
working in many California schools despite improved training for
teachers of English learners. “I think what people are doing now is
something called "English-plus" – so they’re embracing the fact that
"English only" is here to stay, but thinking about what other ways can
we enrich the experience of children; have earlier access to more than
one language,” Ragusa said.

So that the experience in the classroom, she said, can better reflect
the multi-lingual richness of life beyond school.


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