Latino parents in New York City want their children taught in English, but can’t get them out of dead-end bilingual classes, writes Samuel Freedman in the New York Times.
On a sultry night in late June, when the school term was nearly over, two dozen parents gathered in a church basement in Brooklyn to talk about what a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of Bushwick, they were the people bilingual education supposedly serves. Instead, one after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and upward mobility.
. . . Gregorio Ortega spoke about how his son Geraldo, born right here in New York, had been abruptly transferred into a bilingual class at P.S. 123 after spending his first four school years learning in English. Irene De Leon spoke of her daughter being placed in a bilingual section at P.S. 123 despite having done her first year and a half of school in English when the family lived in Queens. Benerita Salsedo wondered aloud why, after four years in the bilingual track at P.S. 145 in Bushwick, her son Alberto still had not moved into English classes. Her two other children were also stuck in bilingual limbo.
Bilingual education became a source of patronage jobs, Freedman writes. It has defied reform.
The grievances of Bushwick’s parents point at an overlooked truth. The foes of bilingual education, at least as practiced in New York, are not Eurocentric nativists but Spanish-speaking immigrants who struggled to reach the United States and struggle still at low-wage jobs to stay here so that their children can acquire and rise with an American education, very much including fluency in English.
. . . In one respect, though, the bilingual program in Bushwick did subscribe to the English-immersion approach. Parent after parent in the church basement last month remembered receiving, and then naively signing, a letter from school that apparently constituted their agreement to having a child put into bilingual classes. The letter, recalled these Spanish-speaking parents, was written only in English.
In my experience, Mexican immigrant parents in California prefer teachers who can talk to the family in Spanish but teach in English. Non-English-speaking parents are very aware of the handicaps of not being fluent in the language of the country.