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Bilingual Education is a Human and Civil Right

A Rethinking Schools Editorial

It's no coincidence that all of this is occurring during the largest wave of non-English speaking immigrants in the history of the United States. The current xenophobic policies in our schools and communities are the newest chapter in a long, predictable book. (Previous chapters included, among other embarrassments, the outlawing of Native-American languages in schools in 1864 and a rash of shutting down German bilingual education programs in the Midwest during a surge of "nativism" around the time of World War I.)

Many mark the beginning of this new anti-immigrant organizing with the 1994 passage of California's Proposition 187, which made it illegal for children of undocumented immigrants to attend public schools. (Fortunately the Federal Courts ruled this law unconstitutional.) And Unz has since successfully dismantled bilingual ed in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. Bush took the same side, using federal legislation to weaken bilingual education in those states that Unz has not yet conquered.

A HUMAN AND CIVIL RIGHT

The current attack on bilingual education denies children a basic human and civil right - the right to learn in their native language. Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of a Child adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989 (and ratified by all nations except the United States and Somalia) states that "the education of the child should be directed to ... the development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values." Article 30 states that "a child belonging to an [ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority] should not be denied the right ... to use his or her own language."

In 1998 the Linguistic Society of America also affirmed this basic human right. It passed a resolution supporting the right of all residents of the United States "to have their children educated in a manner that affirmatively acknowledges their native language abilities as well as ensures their acquisition of English."

Not only is the right to learn in one's native language a human right, it is a civil right as well. In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lau vs. Nichols that California schools without special provisions to educate language minority students were violating the students' civil rights. This decision gave impetus to the bilingual education movement.

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