Bilingual Education = Unilingual Education
Bilingual education in America is a sound idea, but it is not truly bilingual education, it is only bilingual for those who do not already speak English. America is a country with more and more cultures mixing together with different areas of America speaking different languages. In California, Spanish is the dominant language next to English, and in states such as Maine, French is spoken. Other cultures should not be assimilated into mainstream America completely, but America shouldn’t have to bend over backwards to make life easier for foreigners. In order to become more culturally tolerant, everyone should learn a second language, not just immigrants. Americans should make bilingual education truly bilingual.
The first reason is to eliminate the effect bilingual education has on poor, non-English speaking children. In Richard Bernstein’s, “A War of Words” he says, “Advocates of bilingual education believe that it represents the best chance for non-English speaking children — who, not so coincidentally, often come from lower-income groups – to enjoy the richness and opportunities of American life”, but he also writes, “…Bilingual education is a failure, a tactic that in the end will harm the chances of the generally poor, non-English speaking children ever having a equal share in the promise of American life.” By simply having everyone learn a second language eliminates the lines of income, and ethnic background.
Truly bilingual education would also eliminate the psychological effects it has on non-English speaking children. When they are in a classroom filled with people who do not speak the same language they do, they are forced to feel alone because they can not perform at the same level as their peers, they feel there is something wrong with them, lower than everyone else. “’Empowering Minority Students’ does not argue that a child’s inability to speak English is what leads him to fail if he is put into an English classroom. Children fail…because they are made to feel ‘shame’ for belonging to a minority group, for not being a part of the dominant group. The only way to ‘empower’ such children…is for the teachers to ‘consciously challenge the power structure both in their classrooms and schools and in the society at large’ Bilingual education…is an ‘empowerment pedagogy.’ It is an act of rebellion against white, Anglo Domination (Bernstein 2). Truly bilingual education would prevent any one child from feeling lower than the other since they would all be sharing the same experience of learning another language. In California for example, immigrants would be learning to speak English, while children who already speak English would be learning another language also. Most likely the “dominant minority language” in the area. In this case Spanish, but of course Spanish would not be the only language available. The choice would be up to the parents.
Total immersion in a foreign language is a necessity. Non-English speaking children must be totally immersed in English, and the same for the native English speakers, they must be immersed completely in, for example, Italian. “Under the dominant method of bilingual education used throughout this country, non-English speaking students are taught all academic subjects such as math, science, and history exclusively in their native language. English is a separate subject. The problem with this method is that there is no objective way to measure whether a child has learned enough English to be placed in classes where academic instruction is entirely in English. As a result, some children have been kept in native language classes for six years” (Hayakawa 3). There are many people who will agree that trying to learn a language is not something a person does in a hour everyday. That person must be totally immersed in the language, they must be speaking that language all of the time, or at least more than they speak their native language. If the people in the current bilingual education courses were totally immersed in English, they would have no choice, but to adapt and learn the language in order to function. It does not take a child six years to learn a language when they are forced to do so.
Children learn at an exceptionally fast rate, if they are immersed in one language, it would not be very long until they are fluent in that language. If children started learning a second language in the third grade, they would most likely be fluent by fifth or sixth grade, which leaves plenty of time to perhaps learn a third? With all of these children learning all different types of languages, there will eventually be a breakdown in communication. Sooner or later someone who prefers to speak Spanish is going to run into someone who prefers to speak Russian. This is exactly the reason many people believe that English should be made the official language of the United States. “Because we are a nation of immigrants, we do not share the characteristics of race, religion, ethnicity, or native language which form the common bonds of society on other countries. However, by agreeing to learn and use a single, universally spoken language, we have been able to forge a unified people from an incredibly diverse population”(Hayakawa 2) This is a good idea, but it would only be required if everyone knew more than one language. Most Americans today only know English. Until this fact changes, there is no need to make English the official language of the US, but even if it were a problem now, English should be made the “default” language. Meaning that it is to be used only in the event of a communications breakdown. The man who prefers to speak Spanish tries to speak to a man who prefers to speak Russian, they both result to the “default” language of English so they can communicate. When they are finished, they can go back to speaking their preferred language to everyone who understands them. Which would suggest that these two ideas should go hand in hand.
In order for a truly bilingual education system to work is to make sure that all teachers are fluent in both English and the language they will be teaching. Which means that there will be a demand for teachers that can speak either German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish. Then there will be the demand to those who can speak the local languages. For example, Lakota is widely used on most Sioux reservations in the US, so many parents may want their children to learn Lakota instead of Chinese. More money will be needed to fund all of these language programs, since there will end up being course listings as: Third Grade English, Third Grade Spanish, Third Grade Italian etc… There will also be uneven classroom sizes because many parents in California will want their children to learn Spanish resulting in a large Spanish class and a small Russian class, if any at all. The idea of a truly bilingual education system is still a lot more productive and beneficiary than the current bilingual system, but the truly bilingual system is, truthfully, utopian in nature.