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For decades, immigrant children have been taught in their native languages in schools across the country while slowly and simultaneously receiving English as a second language. But like anything, bilingual education is not without its flaws. In fact, it's plagued with them. After many years of bilingual education in the United States, one thing is certain: it does not work, and it is failing America's immigrant youth. The idea behind bilingual education is that students be taught "academic subjects" such as math, geography, and science "in their native languages (most often Spanish), while slowly and simultaneously adding English instruction" (Rothstein 627).
Students learn English as a second language and learn all other subjects in their native language "so that, in theory, they can keep up with their English- speaking peers" (Schrag 14). After "five to seven years, " the time "it typically takes... for children to acquire the second- language skills needed for cognitive and academic pursuits, " the students are transitioned into classes which are taught in English (Sjoerdsma 504 K 2721). This is, of course, how bilingual education should work in theory. This is not, however, the case. Critics of bilingual education say that "the objectives of the classes are confused, the quality of instruction is poor, " and the "transition" time, when students transition into regular classes, is murky (Schrag 14).
Critics believe that the goals of bilingual education have been forgotten and replaced with the need to "preserve native culture and traditions" (Rothstein 627). In fact, the major defense from advocates of bilingual education is that there is nothing wrong with preserving children's ethnic and linguistic heritage. It is important to have an understanding of English when living in the United States, after all, "according to the 1990 census, 94 percent of U. S. residents speak it, to some degree" (Sjoerdsma 504 K 2721). One cannot learn English, however if one does not stay in school.
Unfortunately, "one recent national study found that students enrolled in bilingual programs dropped out earlier" (Murr 65). Also, the percentage of students who make the transition from bilingual to regular classes is very low. Last year in California, for example, only about " 6. 7 percent of the non- English- speakers moved into regular classes" (Murr 65). This is evidence that bilingual education is not working. The problem is not just in California. "Other states have similar low success rates" (Murr 65). Most of the focus is on California, however, since 1. 4 million of the nation's 3. 2 million LEP (limited English proficient) students live there.
In California, where "statewide, 140 languages are spoken by students, " people are fed up with the current bilingual education system and have taken steps to change it with Proposition 227, which "will reduce instruction in any language but English" (Schrag 14). Like everywhere else in the country, most California LEP students are Hispanic. And even they want an end to bilingual education. In fact, the results of a California newspaper poll showed that "among Hispanic voters alone, 84 percent favored and end" to bilingual education (West 48). "Most Hispanics think that learning English is more important than instruction in their native language" (Zuckerman n 68). They also feel that they can spread their native language on to their children themselves. All in all, "Hispanic parents want what all parents want: quality educational programs that produce results" (Amselle 53).
The problem in California is that there just are not enough bilingual teachers to "serve the states 1. 4 million limited- English students adequately" (Rodriguez 15). Too often, these "bilingual" teachers have only a limited command for their students' language, a problem which is all too common across the country. Even when teachers can be found, LEP students are not learning English from them. There have been cases in which students who "had been in bilingual classes for six years couldn't write a simple English sentence" (Schrag 14). This is because there is very little contact with English- speaking students. LEP students are segregated in classes taught solely in Spanish.
English class is not enough. These students, in order to learn English, must mainstream with their English- speaking counterparts. The few hours during recess, lunch, P. E. , and music spent "mixing" with English- speakers is far from adequate. Students who don't learn English are not able to excel in school. For that reason, many LEP students drop out. "The drop- out rate for all Hispanic LEP students in the United States is 50 percent, much higher that for any other group" (Amselle 52).
Those who don't drop out of high school will find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a good career which doesn't require them to have some command of the English language. They also will not find American universities that teach using Spanish. In other words, without English, a student's chances are very limited. Immersion is the best cure for these ailments. The best approach to teach students English is the sink- or- swim method. With this method, students start learning English form day one through complete immersion in English, forcing them to either sink or swim.
This method was used in the early 20 th century. Those students swam. Of course, immigrant students can never learn English to the extent that it could be considered their first language. This is the time it usually takes for immigrant families to culturally melt into American society. New studies of how the brain handles language could also be a big help in finding new ways to teach students their second language. One key is teaching the language to children at a young age while the brain is still developing.
As a person grows older, learning a language becomes more difficult. In any case, some better way must be found for these Without knowledge of English, the future of too many immigrant children seems bleak. The chance for these immigrant youth to make something of themselves, to get a meaningful education, to fulfill the American dream, could be shattered because of a system that failed them. The importance of English will one day become all too real to them, but it will be too late. These students deserve better. We must remember that this nation is built on immigrants.
They are the character of our country, its backbone. The American dream is dying, due to a system which is Bibliography:
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