Parents for English

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.

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  1. BigFire says:

    I did 1 yaar of ESL (English as Second Language) when I came to America. One of the worst year of my life. (Of course, if they want to do bi-lingual language teaching, they’d better find Mandarine speaking teacher).

  2. Mad Scientist says:

    Ask any foreign language teacher and you will find that most, if not all, believe that immersion is the fastest way to become functional in a language.

  3. In Canada, we have two official languages — French and English. Parents can chose to send their child to either an English speaking school or a French speaking school (total immersion). Perhaps rather than having bilingual schools, there should be English immersion schools for students whose native tongue isn’t English. The French immersion schools are extremely successful producing bilingual students with great academic records.

  4. In places where Hispanic immigration is a rather recent occurance, not only is there not bilingual education, but there aren’t many teachers who speak Spanish fluently.

    Our school is about 15 percent Hispanic, which is high for our state (Georgia). While there are a few schools with more Hispanic Students, the vast majority have none.

    The students are instructed only in English. Our ESL teacher doesn’t speak Spanish (except what she has picked up from the kids). We have a translator who comes in and helps for conferences, letters home, etc.

    It seems to me that it would be easy enough to compare educational outcomes between the students at our school and those in a bilingual program.

  5. Lynn;

    I can compare outcomes from here — I see very few jobs and bonuses for bilingual educators being provided compared to the system in NYC. Oh, wait, did you mean educational outcomes for the students? I think the article made clear that those are irrelevant.

  6. Curt Wilson says:

    The only mistake Freedman makes here is to say that bilingual ed “became” a patronage machine. It was that from the start. My father-in-law was an NEA organizer at the time working in the NEA/AFT organizing battles that were going on at the same time as the effort to implement bilingual classes (and the two battles were very mixed in together). One of the chief proponents of bilingual ed told him at the time, “This isn’t about the kids; it’s about jobs for our people.”

    It’s a classic technique to take over government jobs — it’s the same technique that the Afrikaaners used in South Africa to drive the British out of most government posts.

  7. Great article! I heard things like this before when I lived in Arizona and the citizens tried to get a petition going to reverse ESL. They wanted the schools to concentrate on teaching English.