Bilingual Education:
Making a U-Turn with Parents and Communities

By Ofelia García

 

This book makes a most important contribution because it focuses on a topic that is often absent––that of the important role that parents of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds have in shaping an appropriate education for their children in the United States. Usually books on bilingual education are for teachers and little attention has been previously paid to how families can act to ensure that American public schools develop bilingual education programs for their children. The most important story told by Fabrice Jaumont in this book is that of the desire of American families to have their children schooled bilingually, in English, but also in a language that has deep connections to them. Contrary to popular opinion, American families with different ethnolinguistic backgrounds are interested in developing bilingual education programs for their children.

Whereas the federal government and state education departments have viewed the use of languages other than English in educating American children with suspicion, middle-class American families today are involved in what Fabrice Jaumont calls a revolution, a revolution led from the bottom up, by families who appreciate the value of bilingualism because it is part of their American identity. And this is the value of Jaumont’s book ––it reminds us that bilingual education is an American tradition, a tradition, however, that has always been mired in tensions, controversy and struggle, as I show below.

Fabrice Jaumont’s book recaptures the promise of a bilingual education tradition and reminds us that all Americans––those with different racial identities, social class, and immigration history––have different linguistic and cultural practices. In this book, American parents whose children’s heritages include linguistic practices that have traces of what are considered Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Italian, German, Polish, Russian, and Spanish, understand these practices to be important. For these parents, a bilingual education is important not because of any connection to the past or foreign lands, but to recognize an American multilingual present and forge the possibilities of a more inclusive future for all American children.

Here I trace both the tradition of American bilingual education, as well as the opposition to it. By also analyzing the ways in which bilingual education was reinterpreted in the second half of the 20th century, I describe how Jaumont’s book proposes a U-turn for bilingual education, a return to its beginnings. Rather than starting with government mandates and regulations and focusing only on those who lack––lack English, lack years of residency, lack economic means––Jaumont proposes that we start with the wishes of ethnolinguistic communities (old and new) to bilingually educate their children. The bilingual education programs that Jaumont portrays in this book start with the children and the desires of parents and communities for their education. But this is not an easy feat. The road is long, with many a winding turn, for we would have to change the English-only path that has been taken by American public schools. The most important aspect of Jaumont’s book is then the roadmap that he gives families, a roadmap that can help them shape the path as they make a new road upon walking, as they make, as Antonio Machado, the Spanish poet, says, “camino al andar.”

A Tradition of American Bilingual Education and Opposition

Throughout the 18th century, the German-speaking communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio established schools where German was used as the medium of education (Crawford, 2004; García, 2009). These schools grew throughout the 19th century and increasingly became more like the bilingual programs we know today. For example, during the second half of the 19th century, children in Cincinnati split their school week between an English and a German teacher. In 1837, a year before the first all-English public school opened in St. Louis, a German-English public school was established. In the bilingual public schools of St. Louis, one-fourth of the students during the second half of the 19th century were not of German descent, reminiscent of the present trend of what we call today “two-way dual-language,” a type of bilingual education where students of ethnolinguistic minorities and English-speaking majorities are educated jointly to develop the bilingualism of all. And yet, by the late 19th century, St. Louis terminated its bilingual education policy, restricting the teaching of German to public secondary schools.

The opposition to a U.S. tradition of bilingual education is also not new. From its beginnings, those considered non-whites––Native Americans and enslaved Africans––were not given any voice; their language practices were silenced as they were annihilated and excluded from education. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which ended the Mexican-American war, made Spanish visible in what were then U.S. territories (which encompass today California, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming). In 1874, in what became the territory of New Mexico (which included present-day Arizona and New Mexico), only five percent of schools were in English only. Fifteen years later, in 1889, that percentage had increased to forty-two percent (del Valle, 2003). English-only schooling became the norm in schools in New Mexico by the end of the 19th century. When California became a state in 1850, it was decreed that schools would be in English and Spanish. However, five years later, English was declared the only language of instruction (Castellanos, 1983). The growth of Spanish in U.S. territory had to be stopped. Throughout the 19th century, Americans not considered white were poorly educated (if at all) in segregated English-only schools, the most important instrument in the extinction of languages other than English in the United States.

The opposition to bilingual education and the teaching of the languages of those considered “others” was gradually extended to all ethnolinguistic groups. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, schools in Louisiana had provided bilingual instruction in French and English. By 1921 the Louisiana state constitution required that all public schools teach in English only (del Valle, 2003). The very varied linguistic practices of Swedes, Ukrainians, Finns, Lithuanians, Poles, Slovaks, Greeks, Russians, Italians, and Jews became suspect as immigration grew at the turn of the 20th century. President Theodore Roosevelt captured the mood of the time when he said in 1915 that “it would not be merely a misfortune but a crime to perpetuate differences of language in this country” and recommended that immigrants who had not learned English after five years should be returned to their countries (cited in Castellanos, 1983, p. 40). When Germany became the enemy of the United States in the First World War, the German language was also declared suspect. Bilingual education was abandoned, and even the study of languages considered “foreign” was restricted. By 1923, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down language-restrictive laws in three states in Meyer v. Nebraska, there were thirty-four states that forbade the use of languages other than English for instruction (Crawford, 2004; García, 2009).

Public bilingual education for ethnolinguistic communities did not make a quick comeback. When the restriction was lifted, ethnolinguistic groups that had the necessary economic means established complementary schools that offered instruction to support their linguistic and cultural practices and that functioned on weekends or after-school. Some communities were able to develop non-public bilingual schools. For example, Epstein (1977) tells us that by 1940 the Franco-American community had a total of 249 bilingual schools “mi-anglais, mi-français, à part égales” (Epstein, 1977, p. 37). But despite a few successful efforts, language minority groups that had been also racialized in an effort to conquer them and colonize them––Native Americans, Mexican Americans and other Latin@s––did not have the economic means or the political power to establish their own bilingual schools.

The American Bilingual Education Tradition Reinterpreted

Throughout the Civil Rights era, the Latin@ community called for bilingual education, not only as a way of educating their children, but also as a “means to realize the promise of equal citizenship” (Del Valle, 1998, p. 194). This included radical Latin@ political organizations such as the Brown Berets and the Young Lords who saw bilingual education as a way to exert community control and to improve the economy of the Latin@ community (Flores, 2016; Flores & García, forthcoming). But what the Latin@ community got was something completely different.

In 1965, under President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Congress passed The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). And three years later, in 1968, ESEA was reauthorized and amended to include Title VII, The Bilingual Education Act. The legislation provided funds to school districts that established bilingual programs to teach students who did not speak English and were in need of remediation, mostly back then Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, but also Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan natives. Bilingual education came back into public schools in a new guise, one that was limited to those considered by the federal government as “Limited English Proficient,” and that did not respond to the desires of different ethnolinguistic communities, even the ones that they were supposed to be helping. Eventually, these federally-funded programs came to be defined as transitional, with the language other than English used only to remediate the lack of English, and only transitionally. From the beginning, there was tension between ethnolinguistic communities who insisted that they wanted bilingual education for their children, even though they were already bilingual. The scene was set for what has been a half-century of confusion and continued attacks.

The federal government expected the funds to be used only for transitional bilingual education. But school districts with mostly Latin@ and Native Americans educators and students, but also some with other ethnolinguistic communities, used their bilingual programs to serve families––some whose children were highly bilingual, others who were not. The attacks from many on these developmental maintenance bilingual education programs were vicious. In 1980, President Ronald Reagan, shortly after taking office, summarized what became the popular opinion of the powerful majority:

[I]t is absolutely wrong and against American concepts to have a bilingual education program that is now openly, admittedly dedicated to preserving their native language and never getting them adequate in English so they can go out into the job market and participate (cited in García, 2009).

Gradually, the tide against bilingual education turned even in states that had previously supported it. Three states –– California, Massachusetts and Arizona–– declared bilingual education illegal around the turn of the 21st century, and bilingual education programs all across the nation started to close down (Menken & Solorza, 2014). Many bilingual education programs were substituted by English-only programs, some were English as a second language programs that were supplementary to regular instruction, others self-standing structured English immersion programs, also known as sheltered English. The American bilingual tradition, reinterpreted by government and education authorities, was succumbing to English monolingual instruction.

Bilingual Education Recast as “Dual-Language”

As bilingual education was capitulating, a movement to save some of it under a different guise was afoot. Now called two-way dual-language education or two-way immersion in an effort to silence the word “bilingual,” the new proposal required that half of the students be learners of English and the other half be learners of the language other than English (Lindholm-Leary, 2011). This two-way dual-language movement coincided with the greater commodification of bilingualism in an increasingly globalized world. But in the way they were constituted, these dual-language bilingual programs were also mired in controversy; for they, more and more, appealed to white monolingual English speakers, leaving behind the ethnolinguistic communities who continued to desire a developmental maintenance bilingual education program for their children (Valdés, 1997). Also controversial were the regulations in many school districts that 50% of the students had to be of one kind, and 50% of the other; for communities, and especially the segregated ones that continue to be prevalent in the U.S., are not simply made up of equal number of different types of students. In addition, some minority ethnolinguistic communities felt cheated of an opportunity for bilingual instruction, for now 50% of the seats had to be filled by those who were English speakers, leaving them with only half of the prospects for bilingual education.

Eventually some communities developed what became known as one-way dual-language programs, bilingual programs that were meant for only one non-English ethnolinguistic group. A few school districts started immersion programs especially in Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and French for their English-speaking students. Although immersion bilingual programs for white monolingual middle-class children are rare, they are not controversial. However, the bilingual education of ethnolinguistic communities with immigrant or racialized backgrounds continues to be controversial. And so, what are called one-way dual-language bilingual education programs, previously considered developmental maintenance bilingual education programs, continue to be seen with suspicion.

Language practices of white middle-class monolingual Americans are the only ones legitimized in U.S. public schools, with the others, stigmatized. Both one-way, as well as two-way, dual-language bilingual programs often fall short in legitimating the practices of bilingual Americans, for they have been built following an immersion pedagogy that might serve English-speaking majority children well, but that does not build on the entire language repertoire of bilinguals. In many dual-language bilingual programs, bilingualism is seen as a separate dual-language competence, a monoglossic view of bilingualism that relies on the conventions of named languages of nation-states, rather than on the unitary linguistic system of speakers. Bilingual speakers and those who are becoming bilingual, emergent bilinguals, are always translanguaging, that is, deploying features from their unitary linguistic system to successfully complete communicative tasks and acquire the social conventions that we call named languages––English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and so on (García & Li Wei, 2014; Otheguy, García & Reid, 2015). But many bilingual education programs, both two-way and one-way, fail to leverage the entire communicative repertoire of the child, limiting their performances only to those that are constituted with features of what is considered standard English-only or the standard language other than English-only. The linguistic practices that characterize bilingualism, often failing to conform to one standard named language or another are stigmatized and the children are not given the opportunity to extend those practices. Bilingual programs that act in this way only add to the linguistic insecurity of all bilingual children, no matter what type they are. Because they do not reflect the American ethnolinguistic communities, and are not led by them, the strict interpretation of what are understood to be separate dual-language competences only adds to the self-doubt of bilingual children and lack of confidence in their bilingualism.

Bilingual Education Making a U-Turn

As I said in the beginning, the most important contribution of Fabrice Jaumont’s book is that it takes an approach to bilingual education that returns the power to ethnolinguistic communities and their desire for the bilingual instruction of their children. Bilingual education takes a U-turn that returns it to the direction in which it began––as a way of recognizing the communities’ wishes to educate their children bilingually. Jaumont’s book shows us how parents and communities are leading this U-turn.

The bilingual education field has focused on how programs ought to be constructed and how teachers ought to teach. But the most important component of bilingual education, the ethnolinguistic communities and the parents themselves, and especially mothers who have always had such an important role in their children’s education, have been left completely out. This is a book that educates parents so that they become the educational leaders and direct the development of bilingual education programs that serve their community and their children well. These bilingual education programs do not find their children’s linguistic or cultural practices suspect. They honor the communities’ funds of knowledge. The book tells the story of real parents that organize the community and battle to change the direction of American education today. We see how the partnerships that the parents build are not solely among themselves or with powerful organizations, but with others and other communities who have histories and experiences in the struggle. The greatest power it turns out is that of parents, interested and committed to the bilingual education of their children. This is not the usual parental participation or even engagement that the education literature talks about. This is about the leadership of parents who lead school change. The power dynamics are inverted, as it is the community itself that is in the driver seat, making the U-turn and leading the way.

It is interesting that this parent revolution is portrayed in this book as happening in New York City, a “multilingual apple” where Americans have always had different linguistic and cultural practices (García & Fishman, 2001). It is also interesting that it has been a scholar of French heritage living and working in the United States that has recognized (and in many ways spearheaded) this bilingual revolution. Jaumont’s role in educating all parents to understand the benefits of bilingual education, as well as in supporting parents of all backgrounds in organizing themselves, has been without equal, for from the beginning he knew that only parents and communities could be change agents. The success of the American bilingual education tradition will rely on the willpower of parents. But willpower alone is not enough, and that is why Jaumont in this book gives parents a roadmap of how to start and support successful bilingual education programs.

As the book demonstrates, this parent-led revolution for bilingual education is not the same for all communities. Unlike dual-language bilingual programs mandated by local educational authorities that are all made from the same mold, this book leaves the design of programs up to the specific communities. Of course, these ethnolinguistic communities have to conform to certain mandates from school districts, but the ways in which they do so differ from community to community. In fact, one of the biggest takeaways from Jaumont’s book is that despite the greater ethnolinguistic diversity today, it is possible to develop and sustain bilingual education programs for different communities. The efforts of the Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Italian, German, Polish, Russian, and Spanish-speaking communities portrayed in this book have been different. Their actions have served their own interests, but also those that go beyond their own. Jaumont shows not only the successes of parents, but also their struggles and defeats, as well as how they have had to adapt to political and social pressures in order to survive.

Jaumont takes us in a U-turn, returning the design of bilingual education to families and communities, reminding us that this is where it all started, in the 18th century, as well as in the 20th century. Our experience tells us that creating bilingual education programs from the bottom up is not easy. But it is an important struggle, one that has always been part of the American ethos and that is being reclaimed today by communities across the country. This book, more than anything else, is a tribute to the hard work of parents and communities who have always made bilingual education possible, despite struggles and opposition. And in making visible the important role especially of women in this revolution–– mothers and teachers who have always been caretakers and educators––we are reminded that the future of our American bilingual children is in good hands, in hands that refuse to give up their caring and supportive role to simply school bureaucracies.

References

Castellanos, D. L. (1983). The Best of two worlds: Bilingual-bicultural education in the U.S. Trenton, New Jersey: New Jersey State Dept. of Education.

Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English learners: Language diversity in the classroom, Fifth Edition (5th edition). Los Angeles, CA: Bilingual Education Services, Inc.

Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English learners. Language diversity in the classroom, 5th ed. (formerly Bilingual education: History, politics, theory and practice). Los Angeles, CA: Bilingual Educational Services.

Del Valle, S. (1998). Bilingual Education for Puerto Ricans in New York City: From Hope to Compromise. Harvard Educational Review, 68(2), 193–217.

Del Valle, S. (2003). Language rights and the law in the United States. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Epstein, N. (1977). Language, Ethnicity and the Schools: Policy alternatives for bilingual-bicultural education. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Educational Leadership.

Flores, N. (2016). A tale of two visions: Hegemonic whiteness and bilingual education. Educational Policy, 30, 13–38.

Flores, N. & García, O. (forthcoming). A critical review of bilingual education in the United States: From Basements and pride to boutiques and profit. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics.

García, O. (2011). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A Global perspective. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

García, O., & Fishman, J.A. (Eds.).  (2001). The Multilingual Apple. Languages in New York City (2nd ed.). Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.

García, O., & Li Wei. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan Pivot.

Lindholm-Leary, K. J. (2001). Dual-language education. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Menken, K., & Solorza, C. (2014). No Child Left Bilingual Accountability and the Elimination of Bilingual Education Programs in New York City Schools. Educational Policy, 28(1), 96–125.

Otheguy, R., García, O., & Reid, W. (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review, 6(3), 281–307. http://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2015-0014

Valdés, G. (1997). Dual-language immersion programs: A cautionary note concerning the education of language-minority students. Harvard Educational Review, 67, 391-429.

 

About Ofelia García
Ofelia García is Professor in the Ph.D. programs of Urban Education and of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She has been Professor of Bilingual Education at Columbia University´s Teachers College, Dean of the School of Education at the Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University, and Professor of Education at The City College of New York. Among her best-known books are Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global PerspectiveTranslanguaging; Language, Bilingualism and Education.

García’s extensive publication record on bilingualism and the education of bilinguals is grounded in her life experience living in New York City after leaving Cuba at the age of 11, teaching language minority students bilingually, educating bilingual and ESL teachers, and working with doctoral students researching these topics. In 2016 García received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bank Street Graduate School of Education, and in 2017 she received the Charles Ferguson Award in Applied Linguistics from the Center of Applied Linguistics, and the Lifetime Career Award from the Bilingual Education SIG of the American Education Research Association.