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Bilingual Education

The Arizona and California votes also raise complicated issues of multiculturalism, assimilation, the relationship between power and language, and one's view of the history and future of the United States.

It is not surprising that the main person behind both the California and Arizona anti-bilingual initiatives - Ron Unz - is an opponent of what he calls the "multicultural agenda." Bilingual education places inherent value on being literate in a second language; in addition, bilingual education values and respects the cultures of those who don't speak English as their first language, thus building a bridge to these communities.

Interestingly, the anti-bilingual initiative in Arizona was ardently opposed by the state's Native American communities - which have a long history of understanding the central role of language in maintaining identity and culture. Under the Arizona initiative, programs that seek to preserve Native languages are likely to be deemed "bilingual" and thus in violation of what is now Arizona law.

ASSIMILATIONIST IDEOLOGY

Native Americans also know first-hand the dangers of assimilationist ideology. For decades, Native children were taken from tribal homes and schools, placed in boarding schools, and forced to learn English and other cultural norms of the dominant white society.

We do not believe it is a coincidence that anti-bilingual initiatives are proliferating at a time when there is concern about the growing power of non-white communities. Fundamentally, the debate is not over whether immigrants should learn English. Everyone agrees they should. Rather, the underlying issue (rarely articulated but ever-present) involves the right to maintain and use one's native language - and all that implies culturally, politically, and linguistically. That this underlying issue is rarely articulated should not be surprising; the dominant culture in this country is quite adept at masking issues of race, culture, and power.

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