Apr 062005
Authors: Justin Marcus Daily Nebraskan U. Nebraska

(U-WIRE) LINCOLN, Neb. – Mass communication, air travel, the Internet and the spread of democracy across the globe have created an increasingly interconnected world. Today, it is crucial for us to understand and communicate with peoples of diverse cultures, to overcome prejudices and foster social harmony.

Bilingual education, in the form of the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 and the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974, presents a major barrier toward achieving this goal.

Bilingual education programs were implemented to aid immigrants in their transition to this society and to overcome racism. Instead, the reverse has happened.

The way bilingual education programs are structured is to move students deficient in English into separate bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. The effectiveness and educational quality of these programs are dubious.

In 2000, Rep. Herman Badillo of New York pointed out students in such programs were "being taught exclusively in Spanish or some other language other than English … it has become 'monolingual education.'"

How do such students, sheltered in bilingual programs throughout grade school and high school, adapt to college life? I very much doubt the nation's top universities are going to start teaching business and engineering classes in Spanish.

Students should not be allowed to stay in such programs for years; some of these stretch for seven years or more. A more efficient system of teaching English to recent immigrants could be adopted by analyzing the way ESL classes are taught to incoming international students in the nation's universities.

International students with poor English skills coming to this university are placed in intensive one-year language "immersion" programs. Such students never or hardly spoke English in their native countries yet manage to grasp the language within a year.

If one year is all it takes, then why do some bilingual education programs in the nation's public schools fail to teach effective English skills after eight years? Clearly, bilingual education either needs to be completely reformed or abolished altogether.

Not only do bilingual education programs hamper educational achievement, they also foster social separation and racial segregation. Current psychological literature indicates constant contact and familiarity with people of varied cultures and backgrounds is key to overcoming prejudice.

Most students in bilingual education programs are from Latin America and Asia. Keeping these students separated from their European-American counterparts deprives all parties involved from the benefit of intercultural contact, fostering an "us vs. them" mentality.

For students in bilingual education programs, this translates into an inability to communicate with mainstream America, along with decreased chances for economic success and social mobility. The result is a permanent social underclass, a dual America, separate and unequal.

If bilingual education hurts minorities, why do civil rights activists continue advocating them? I believe the problem stems from the idea of English being "Western." Supporters of bilingual education cite the need for people to "keep their cultural heritage and not become Americanized."

The English language today is neither Western nor American. According to the March 7 issue of Newsweek International, non-native speakers of English now outnumber native speakers 3 to 1. The British Council reports 3 billion people, or half the world's population, will speak English in a decade.

English is the world's official language of business and science. Eighty-six percent of electronic information is stored in English. Clearly, English is not "Western" or "American" — it is a global language, and proficiency in it is a must if one is to get ahead in the modern world.

This does not mean people coming to America should renounce their native culture and language, or multiculturalism and lingual diversity should not be valued. However, maintaining one's cultural identity should not come at the expense of rejecting the mainstream national identity.

For America, this national identity is expressed in the sharing of a common language: English. If we continue down our current path, we may well be heading toward a society where you and your neighbor can't communicate, since you don't speak the same language.

The concept of bilingual education in and of itself is a good thing. The way it has been implemented is a travesty. Lawmakers and administrators should monitor and re-evaluate the efficacy of the current bilingual education system.

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