[lg policy] End Language Discrimination Now

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Dec 17 16:03:46 UTC 2015

 End Language Discrimination Now
Julianne Jennings

How did the English language become the most widely spoken language in the
world? The influence of American business, combined with the tradition of
English language (either blunt or subtle) left around the world by the
British Empire, have made English the number one language of international
trade in the 21st Century. All of the world’s top business schools now
teach in English. From elementary schools, high schools to college,
students from all around the world are being taught English. It just wasn’t
American music that brought English into the world’s discotheques and
homes. British bands including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink
Floyd, the Police, Led Zeppelin and others ensured that Britannia ruled the

Looking back on language conversion efforts, the Carlisle Indian School,
which opened in 1879, encouraged the use of English through an English
language student newspaper and frequently praised and rewarded students for
speaking English. At the end of the nineteenth century, the “object
method,” which used objects and regalia to help provide comprehensible
input, was adapted for use in BIA schools. During the 1930s-40s elements of
progressive education, which placed emphasis on the child rather than the
subject matter, were used in BIA schools. Local material and daily
experiences were used in teaching, early primary reading and was based on
words that children were already familiar with, and games and activities
were used to teach vocabulary and engage students.
English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) programs were initiated in Navajo-area
BIA schools in the 1960s, and their success was bolstered by the addition
of bilingual programs and bilingual teacher training programs. The problem
with the all-English immersion teaching methods used in Indian schools were
to replace the children's Native languages rather than to give them an
additional language. Indigenous language activists strongly support
immersion language programs for indigenous language revitalization, and
most of the techniques the BIA adapted or developed to teach English are
adaptable to teaching Indian languages as second languages today.

As an American Indian anthropologist and ESL instructor, I was
inadvertently using the same BIA methods using objects to teach English to
brown and olive skin tone students. These are the same students recently
pushed from an existing classroom with white/light students and a white
teacher. It was obvious the brown students were taken out of the white
classroom and put with a brown teacher because I/they would not “measure
up.” Some of the students stated “How come there are no more brown students
in the white classroom?” Their line of questioning was smothered by others
defending the teacher in question. A 2011 analysis of U.S. Department of
Education data showed teachers of color made up 17 percent of the teaching
force nationwide, though minority students accounted for 48 percent of the
classroom population. Based on this statistic we were being set-up for

Opposite this scenario, primary-grade white students are denied the
opportunity of learning a second language in the formative years when this
learning would come so much easier and more in depth. The practice of
relegating white students to second place in the international world is a
correlation to relegating students of color to second place in first world
countries. No matter the race, color, national origin, or any other means
of dividing people, all students need to learn at least one other language
to function effectively on the international world stage.

Considering the increase of the Latino/a population in the United States,
this second language should be Spanish. Yet students are told they
shouldn't worry about a second language until they reach high school, far
too late to achieve true understanding and functionality in second language
thought processes.

Discrimination is usually seen as whites relegating people of color to
second or third place, yet the education systems in the US are continuing
this discrimination against all students who are not allowed to speak their
native language in classroom - and punished for using that language to
teach their fellow-students on playgrounds.

If the people of this country actually wanted to eliminate the disparity of
education, they would insist on dual language classes for all students, in
all schools, and at all grade levels. Only by granting each and every
student the ability to function in the global world of today can we as
parents and educators effectively train the leaders of the future.

I do not advocate a dual official language for the country. Every other
country on the planet has a single official language, although some
provinces within countries have chosen to implement the dual language
policy. The official language of the US is English and should remain so.
However, we need to end the discrimination policies of the education system
and ensure that all students have access to second language education as
well as preserving and promoting American Indian language programs - from
kindergarten through 12th grade - to become the future leaders of the world.

By-the-way, student performance in my classroom has improved significantly
according to recent test scores. The other teacher is now wanting to
participate in our group activities desirous to implement my methods in her

*Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.*


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