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Bilingual education in the United States Print E-mail

Monday, 09 January 2012 00:00

Written by Arlene Kellman

Bilingual education has been a highly-charged political issue in the United States since long before the passage of the Bilingual Education Act in 1968.  

Many people do not realize that our country started out as a multilingual and multicultural society, and some early governmental documents were written in German, French, and Spanish. However, as long ago as 1831, Noah Webster put forth a proposal to make English the national language. This was rejected by the Supreme Court, but similar proposals have repeatedly surfaced since then, usually corresponding to periods of influx of non-English-speaking immigrants.

Although the Constitution does not specifically grant a right to education, it has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court that a minimal level of education is necessary for the exercise of basic rights such as voting. Therefore, bilingual education proponents maintain that a bilingual education should be provided under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I personally believe that opposition to bilingual education in the United States, with few exceptions, is politically motivated. Plenty of empirical evidence suggests that bilingual education programs work. For examples, take a look at the Brown University Education Alliance's "Portraits of Success" Although claims have been made that research to-date does not support the value of bilingual education, these come from biased sources. It's fairly easy to skew the implications of research if one has a vested interested in the outcome.

Most importantly, let's not forget that the ultimate goal of bilingual education programs is to teach English!

With the increasing xenophobic climate in this country and the current administration's prioritization of military spending, it is no surprise to me that bilingual education, which serves minority groups and requires increased spending on education, is under attack. I think this trend will continue until the political pendulum begins to swing in a new direction.


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