According to the U. S. Census Bureau (1990), 97% of U. S. residents speak English "well" or "very well."
The 2000 Census reported that even though non-English-speaking immigration has grown as a percentage of all immigrants, rates of English fluency are also on a growth track.
Despite this rise in English language proficiency nationally, the "English-only" movement has gained momentum.
Twenty-four states have taken legal action to declare English as their official language. This means that residents in English-only states must interact with their local and state governments using only English, including at the polls on election days.
The English-only movement has stirred a national backlash against bilingual education and bilingual teaching strategies.
According to Andrew Hartman in his provocative essay, "Language as Oppression: The English-Only Movement in the United States" (Poverty & Race, Volume 14: Number 3, May/June 2005, pages 1ff), "most serious research supports bilingual instruction as the best means to advance language skills, thus enhancing long-term English acquisition."
Hartman argues that there is much more to the English-only movement than educational theory. He contends that the movement's attack on bilingual education is thoroughly racist and stands in our national tradition of colonialism and social control. Doing away with bilingual education allows for the immersion of immigrant children in public schools whose job it is to "forge 'commonalities'" for the national and common good.
I was struck by Hartman's documentation of the fact that Latinos who speak only English actually are worse off economically than those who speak no English. You may be asking how could this be? The question itself arises from our acceptance of another powerful, national myth.
The fact is Latinos who do not receive the benefits of the Spanish-speaking community find that these lost assets are not replaced by membership in the English-speaking community.
Hartman makes a compelling case from an educator's perspective that bilingual instruction is the best way for children to learn to speak English. Hear him out:
"A long-term national study has documented higher student achievement in bilingual classrooms than in traditional English as second language (ESL) classrooms or immersion (English-only) classrooms. . . .The level of a person's language skills will only be as advanced as the level of his or her first language. . . .Children who are immersed and mainstreamed in English-only classrooms prior to developing abstract skills will only learn functional English. Functional English may be all that is required to enable them, as adults, to work the monotonous, semi-skilled jobs that the market demands, but it hinders these future citizens from learning how to think abstractly, which in turn limits their ability to address societal problems" (pages 7-8).
You can obtain a copy of Hartman's fascinating essay by contacting him at ae.Hartman@verizon.net. It will be worth the time and effort.
As I read what he wrote, I began to think about the very obvious missed opportunity right before us.
To take advantage of it, to capture it before it is too late will require that we behave as members of an authentic national community.
Our nation and our world is changing.
All of our children need language training. All of us need it as well!
It is certainly true for us here in Dallas that every English-speaking child needs to learn and master Spanish in preparation for life in our world just as badly as every Spanish-speaking child needs to develop the capacity to speak English to be successful.
Our children are together every day.
Am I wrong or is there not a great opportunity here for all of our children to help one another and in the process make our community, our neighborhoods and our nation stronger in many, many ways?
Is there no way to teach all of our children both languages and in the process allow them to deepen their understanding of one another?
Is it the funding that stops us? Or, is Hartman correct? Is it cultural and racist?
We must open our eyes and do better for the sake of our children and our future.
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Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
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