Despite having many researches proving that bilingual children provide greater than (or at least at the same level as) the monolingual children, there is constant debate whether to provide bilingual children with bilingual education or programs that focus uniquely on acquiring English. Bilingual education is the teaching of all subjects in school using two different languages — English and Spanish or Chinese depending which is the native language of the student. Definition
According to Ovando, Combs and Collier (2006) bilingual education is not a single uniform program or a consistent methodology for teaching language minority students. Bilingual education includes a number of different program models with a number of distinct goals. Other programs may promote the development of two languages for bilingualism and biliteracy while others use the students’ first language so that students may better learn English. Some bilingual education programs preserve an indigenous or heritage language as an ethnic, cultural, or community resource.
There are programs that aim to incorporate students into the mainstream of society (Baker 2001). Thus, as Cazden and Snow (1990) stress, bilingual education is “a simple label for a complex phenomenon” since not all programs necessarily “concern the balanced use of two languages in the classroom” (Baker, 2001). (Throughout this paper, the terms L1 and L2 to denote the child’s language, L1 for their native language and L2 for the language they are acquiring. )
The inseparable connection between language and culture brings bilingual programs to include historical and cultural components associated with the languages being used. As Ulibarri (1972) says: In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was made flesh. It was so in the beginning and it is so today. The language, the Word, carries within it the history, the culture, the traditions, the very life of a people, the flesh. Language is people. We cannot conceive of a people without a language, or a language without a people. The two are one and the same.
To know one is to know the other (p. 295). Historical Background Discussing the historical background of bilingual education in the United States indicates that there is a cyclical pattern with regard to language policies and programs (Korschun, 2006). Furthermore, studying the origins of bilingual education helps to understand its present undertakings and its future effectiveness. There are few references that account the history of bilingual education. In this paper, I rely predominantly on Ovando et al’s account of the history of bilingual education.
The 1800s. Contrary to the common perception in the United States, schools in the United States use for instruction multiple languages other than English during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Because of the increasing establishments of homesteads of different groups of different languages and countries of origin in US territories, a general sense of geographical and psychological openness existed. Some communities were self-sufficient and agrarian based while some were ethnic pockets in urban areas (Ovando, 1978b).
According to historical records, many schools in the nineteenth century, both public and private, used languages other than English for instruction. In fact, during this century, following the annexation of the Territory of New Mexico, a school’s curriculum may use either Spanish or English or even both as medium for instruction (Leibowitz, 1971). In 1900, at least 600,000 children in US received part or all of their schooling in German in public and parochial schools (Crawford, 2004; Ovando &Wiley, 2003; Kloss, 1977; Tyack, 1974).
Many other states passed laws providing for schooling in languages other than English (Crawford, 1992, 2004). Some public schools provided bilingual or non-English-language instruction during the second half of the nineteenth century. The 1900s. Between 1900 and 1910, over 8 million immigrants were admitted to the United States majority of which came from Europe (Stewart, 1993). Because of this, the struggle for power to control institutions became imminent. One solution to this power struggle focused on schools.
This solution came in the form of “Americanizing” all immigrants. By 1919, 15 state laws had been passed calling for English Only instruction (Higham, 1992). During the first half of the twentieth century, many schools already implemented the English dominant instruction which was impelled by many factors such as the standardization and bureaucratization of urban schools (Tyack, 1974), the need for national unity during the two world wars, and the desire to centralize and solidify national gains around unified goals for the country (Gonzalez, 1975).
In fact, from World War I to the 1960s, language-minority students were severely punished whenever they used a language other than English in the classroom, or even on the playground. This policy continued until the 1950s resulting to an enormous loss of many indigenous languages (Crawford, 2004; Ovando & Wiley, 2003). The consequence of this action is still visible today. The ambivalence of language-minority parents toward bilingual education reflects fears that their children will be punished for using a language other than English (Arias & Cassanova, 1993).
The early 1920s saw yet another restrictive immigration laws. These immigration laws, passed by the US congress, created a national-origins quota system. These extremely restrictive laws discriminated against eastern and southern Europeans and even excluded Asians. This resulted to fewer numbers of new immigrants while second-generation immigrants dropped the use of their native languages. Moreover, bilingual education disappeared for nearly have a century in US public schools (Crawford, 1992a).