Debating Bilingual Education
Mary Tamer's article ("¿Habla Inglés?" summer 2006) on bilingual education doesn't meet what I hope are HGSE standards. It's short on data and long on bias and stereotypes.
We're told that Amy Merickel and others studying the effectiveness of Proposition 227 "looked at the available data extensively over the past five years and we don't find any compelling evidence for the premise underpinning 227." Well, what did the available data show? What were the findings? Your readers could make independent judgments.
The sixth paragraph reveals Tamer's preference for Catherine Snow's view (not surprising, since Professor Snow is at HGSE). But is it now acceptable at Harvard to portray opponents of an accepted position as racist bigots? Why the references to armed vigilantes patrolling our borders? Where do school officials suspend kids who speak their native languages in bathroom stalls?
No, interest in immersion isn't an "outward sign of xenophobia in a post 9/11 world." Ron Unz didn't "sell" it. It's a reasonable reaction to universal frustration with a system that hasn't worked.
Since I taught English, my students usually had taken ESL classes before they came to me. They couldn't read most of what had been the traditional curriculum, so the curriculum was tossed in favor of multicultural texts that were usually thinly veiled propaganda for left-wing perspectives (Always Running), feminist agendas (Bless Me, Ultima; The Color Purple; Their Eyes were Watching God), or anti-Christian propaganda (all the above). These texts would have offended parents who could read them, but immigrant students' parents couldn't read them, and native parents still trusted us to make character-building choices.
LOIS HOLWERDA POPPEMA, M.A.T.'63
Mountain View, California
Two cheers for Mary Tamer's article on the bilingual education debate mentioning "two-way immersion" as an answer to this divisive issue. But she didn't give it enough emphasis.
In 1981 I wrote a paper for the Edward W. Hazen Foundation which recommended that a more productive approach would combine increased consensus on the positive value of Americans learning more than one language with advocacy for two-way immersion as a practical way to achieve this. (There are other models for two-way immersion than what was mentioned in Tamer's article, but they
all require much more use of the new language than most bilingual programs have done.)
The Hazen Foundation and the Academy for Educational Development called a conference attended by Secretary of Education Terrell Bell; the state commissioners of education of California, New York, and Florida; and the heads of 10 civil rights and education organizations who all endorsed this approach with a joint statement that was published by the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.
California and other states could all avoid a great deal of grief and gain a great deal of positive education if they would adopt this approach instead of continuing to fi ght over the polarized, no-win, bilingual education vs. "English Only" debate.
DAVID SEELEY, C.A.S.'61, Ed.D.'70
professor, College of Staten Island/CUNY
Staten Island, New York
I'm not surprised that Catherine Snow and other linguists are abandoning the idea that there is a critical period for second language acquisition. The State Department trains many people in languages -- including hard ones -- when the learners are adults. Joseph Conrad, the famous novelist, didn't learn English until he was 18. Thorstein Veblen spoke only Norwegian into his teens, even though he was born and raised in Wisconsin. I suspect that the reason older learners were thought "past their prime" for second language acquisition was because in times past, children of immigrants went to school where they had to sink or swim with English, while the adult immigrants went to work.
Thank you for the coherent and concise article regarding the pedagogical and political issues of the growing "English Only" movement. In spite of increasing research to the contrary, the political fallout is spreading. The state of California has initiated yearly reports; at the federal level, a report was completed in 2003 with lead research Virginia Collier; and as far back as 1998, the Government Accounting Office issued a report, as well as the National Academy of Sciences, all of which support quality bilingual programs as effective.
Good coverage of the [summer 2006] issue. How about a follow-up story that highlights the practices that support the type of instruction deemed by the experts as leading to acquisition of English and content competence?
I have traveled to many schools in my state and have seen first hand just what Jonathan Kozol ("Desegregation Now. Segregation Tomorrow?" summer 2006) writes and talks about. Some schools are not only old and deteriorating, but are completely out of date with materials and teachers who are really not competent. It breaks my heart to see so many children with little hope of getting a first-class education. The expectations are too low in many American schools, even those in the suburbs. All Americans need to understand the state of education in this country and how it impacts every citizen. We all must stand up and do our part.
Chesterfield County, Virginia
The great irony of segregating school districts is that outside forces, particularly the courts that enforced busing, are the very institutions being manipulated to deny opportunity to those who could benefit the most from public education. Wealthy members of our society are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on private education while using their influence to reduce their participation in our current tax structure, therefore reducing resources for education. While this is occurring, test scores are used as justifi cation to deny "failing schools" vital resources. It is this struggle for economic balance that will determine the fate of the public schools. I believe that both Geoffrey Canada, Ed.M.'75, and Jonathan Kozol are right on the money, no pun intended. However, our current prescription of oppressive accountability for those who are doing the work in the schools is compounding the problems we now face. Therefore, I believe our greatest impediment to true educational reform may be us, the educational establishment.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Standing Up For Schools
("The Elementary and Secondary Education Act: 40 Years Later," summer 2005) For optimum performance in testing, confidence needs to prevail to support the knowledge learned. Confidence is at its highest level when the student has a structural attachment to complement the learning-to-know phase. Math becomes less challenging when one can apply practical application in daily tasks and enterprise in the classroom or outside. Achievement and sustaining the "knowing" phase needs application of a "doing" phase. The child is inspired to learn to know when he or she is subject to be the CEO of his enterprise and accountable for being a model for his employees. As he or she is motivated, the passion for learning is subject to taking control and moving the child into new territory with less coaching. The possibility of sustaining the zest of the first day of school becomes a reality when we create the openings of action.
EARNEST HOOKS, JR.
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