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Why America Needs Bilingual Education


It is not uncommon to hear people say something to the tune of “There are too many immigrants in the United States and they are taking all of our jobs.” When these comments are made they are usually in reference to “lower class” jobs that involve a lot of manual labor and do not involve communication, but the debate has gained fuel from another area as well: the teachers of America. "Monolingual English-speaking teachers who fear erosion of their job security have helped place bilingual education at the center of heated national debates." 43 In some cases where teachers have become desperate, they along with administrators have in some instances encouraged "anti-bilingual education legislation." 44 Jobs should be something that people choose not something that they are forced into because of social class, fluency/non-fluency, or race. Sadly this inequality may become worse in the future if Bilingual Education is not more widely used and supported. This connection may not be evident, but there are very real economic implications for immigrants when it comes to being able to speak the dominant language of their new country.

This all begins with young children. They are the future of the work force and other segments of the U.S. economy like the $200 billion of purchasing power they currently hold. 46 “Proficiency in the dominant language of the host country may have direct effects on school enrollment and academic performance for immigrant children." 1 Latino students finish high school and do not do as well academically as “Asians and other non-hispanic whites.” 2 These facts can have terrible effects on the future of these children because one statistic on wages shows that “ U.S. immigrants fluent in English earned 20 to 30 percent more than those who were non-fluent." 3 If these children do not finish high school it will be difficult for them to find a job where they can actually make ends meet and on top of that, receiving lower wages than those immigrants who are earning more may hurt the emotional well-being of that person.

To give an idea of how many children are currently using English Language Learner (ELL) programs; as of the 2001-2002 school year there were 307,594 students, or 41.8%, enrolled in ELL programs in the Los Angeles United District. 26 Some may expect that the states bordering with Mexico would have large numbers of students involved in some type of Bilingual Education program, but what about a state like Maryland? Montgomery County Public Schools in the state of Maryland had over 15,000 students enrolled in ELL programs during the 2001-2002 school year. That figure comprised 11% of their entire district. 27 Seeing that the number of children involved in these programs is so large why does inequality persist?

Sadly, many inequalities that are found in educational achievement stem from economic situations that many immigrants endure. “Many studies observe that family income is positively associated with the educational attainment of the child." 4 When the parents of children are first generation immigrants, meaning they were born in another country and are new citizens to the United States, and working in low paying jobs if they have a job at all, how can people expect immigrant children to have all the “social capital” that children of native born parents (who speak English and do not have to fight discrimination to get a good job) have? Social capital can be defined as the presence of parents in the home on a regular basis, parents communicating with their children often, parents monitoring their children, and the number of brothers or sisters a child has that are in college, etc.. 5 Immigrant parents have to work many hours at low paying jobs and many times they can not be present in the home as much as a person who only works an eight hour work day at a secure job can. One woman in focus groups called "Voces de la Comunidad" (Voices of the Community) said "Because I have to work, there are times when I've had to leave the children alone [at home]...The eldest one has been affected [negatively] by my absence." 45 The absence of parent is difficult for children and although those living it realize the problem they see little way around it.

There are two theories that discuss the disadvantages of Latinos in educational attainment and they are the Cultural Discontinuity Theory and the Cultural-Ecology Theory.

  • Cultural Discontinuity Theory: These theorists believe “that immigrant youth are disadvantaged due to language, culture, and social interactional conflicts between home and school.” 6 This speaks of the conflict between children speaking English in school and then coming home to their Latino culture and the Spanish language.
  • Cultural-Ecology Theory: These theorists believe “that immigrant educational attainment is affected by a complex interaction of multiple factors that include motivation to immigrate, perceptions of opportunity, and labor market pay off for attainment." 7 In other words if these people do not feel that going to school and learning English is going to help them in the long run why would they waste time in school when they could be out making money and helping their family?

In the end, there are many factors that influence everyone's life, not just immigrants and everyone deserves an equal chance at having the life he/she wants. Peoples' options should not be restricted because of poor education practices. Rather, education should provide everyone with any and everything he/she would need to succeed in life whether that person knows English from the beginning or needs assistance in developing a second language. Furthermore the economic implications of refusing to educate people would be disastrous in terms of unemployment, sky-rocketing medical insurance costs, and other economic factors like a decreasing Gross Domestic Product due to losing the consumption of an ever-growing latino market base.

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