Examine your motives
October 25, 2002
My granddaughter is a first grade student enrolled in a bilingual class at Basalt Elementary School. She and her family are delighted with this program. I would like to explain our reasons for being so pleased.
We are not Spanish speakers; Jessica, her parents and grandparents were all born in the United States and speak only English.
The opportunity offered by the school for beginning to learn a second language seemed attractive and Jessica was interested. The kindergarten class that she attended is also a bilingual one; presently, the program extends through the fourth grade.
Young children can replicate unfamiliar sounds more readily than can adults or even older children, and now Jessica, when she converses or sings in Spanish, rolls her “r’s” and uses the rhythm and intonation of that language properly and without hesitation or self-consciousness. I hope that she will be able to retain that skill as she grows older.
The classes in this program are truly bilingual; each class is equally divided between children who are Spanish speakers and those for whom English is the native language. Jessica has learned from her teachers to describe her school friends as “English experts” and “Spanish experts.”
In her mind, neither group is superior or inferior to the other; they are of equal value. Children are encouraged to talk and to play with one another during recess and lunchtime and they do, following their teachers’ lead in accepting one another simply as children like themselves, regardless of language spoken or cultural background. This leads, of course, to learning from one another.
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As a retired educator, I am aware that there are differences, not only among programs of this kind but, perhaps even more importantly, among teachers and how their personalities and abilities can affect children’s learning.
Jessica loves her teachers and all of the classes she attends. Each day she goes to an English literacy class (she is rapidly gaining skill in reading and writing), a Spanish class on most days, and art, music, physical education and computer classes each week.
The quality of the teachers in this program seem excellent to me; they are loving of the children, compassionate, well-trained in educational concepts and hard-working. The administration appears to be supportive.
A yes vote by the majority of voters for Amendment 31 in the coming election next month will effectively put an end to the program Jessica attends, as well as to most other attempts to help children who do not know English to learn it well.
No administrator or teacher will dare to continue with such programs knowing that the threat of lawsuits will hang over them for the next 10 years. Linguists know that real fluency in a foreign language, if the student lives in an environment in which that language is used routinely, takes about seven years to acquire.
Amendment 31 requires that non-English speaking children attend an English as a Second Language (ESL) class for only one year and then be mainstreamed in a regular class.
For most children who live in homes and in neighborhoods where English is not spoken, that is not adequate and their academic learning will be poor. They will soon give up or become behavioral problems, and will drop out of school.
We know this will be the result because the mainstreaming of immigrant children was the method followed in this country’s schools for more than 100 years. (More recently, many children of immigrants languished in special education classes where they learned little of anything.)
I find it difficult to understand the motivation of people who support this amendment. Is it lack of understanding of how learning and development in human beings takes place? Is it a belief that schools will save money for taxpayers because fewer children will continue to be enrolled?
Can it be a desire to retain a pool of poorly educated people who, because they have little choice of work opportunities, continue to do the menial tasks that others do not wish to perform? Is it fear that the children of newly arrived immigrants, if well-educated, will become successful competitors in the professions and in business job markets? Or is it simply the viciousness of bigotry?
Please, before you cast your vote for or against Amendment 31 in the coming election, do examine your own motives carefully.
Marian Schipper, Ph.D.