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Many Truths, in Many Languages


There is a tricky topic that can turn a teacher's workroom into a wrestling ring in five minutes flat. When done well, it leaves children able to speak different languages. Done poorly, it keeps them unable to speak well in any language at all. It's called bilingual education, and it is one of the most difficult issues in public schools today. Bilingual means being able to speak in two languages. Some people think we should eliminate the program. Others want to keep it, and think that it could be very useful. One thing everyone agrees with is that in order for it to work, it must be taught well.

It's roots in American go back to the 18th century. Back then students could be taught in German, Dutch, French, Swedish, and even Greek. This system was unchanged until after the First World War. At that point, people thought that Americans should only be taught to learn English. This was the standard until the 1960s when Congress voted to change the law. The Bilingual Education Act, gave schools permission to teach their students any way they chose. Schools were once again allowed to use the language that their students grew up with and spoke in their homes.

Welcome to Cahuenga Elementary!
Welcome to Cahuenga Elementary!
At some schools this has been very successful. For instance, at Cahuenga, a school in Los Angeles, the kids speak many different languages. Sometimes a student might call out in one language, and be answered in another. These students are mostly Korean, but there are children from many other countries as well. When they are finished, they will be able to speak well in both Korean and English. The children who have parents from a different country, like India, or Mexico, would also be able to speak a third language. Wow, can you imagine being able to speak in three different languages?

Tok Miller teaches her Kindergarten class in both English and Korean In other parts of Los Angeles however, bilingual education is not doing as well. There are a lot of children who are not doing well in school. Some people say that teaching the children in different languages is not helping them learn English. Every one who lives in this country has to be able to speak English well. If these students can not do that, then they will have a tough time in life. One reason the students may not be learning is that the schools are crowded. It is easier for a teacher to help a small group of children learn. The bigger the group becomes, the harder it will be to help every student in the class. Some students will not receive as much attention. Those students may be the ones who need help the most.

It is hard to say if bilingual education is good or bad. If the school pays attention and makes sure to carefully watch itself, then it usually works well. If the school is overcrowded or does not receive a lot of money, then it may have problems teaching its students. Everyone agrees that knowing more than one language is a good thing. How we are we are able to do this is the tough part.


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - The making of a super man and the uniting of a people
Nick - It's ours so we're taking it back! Get off of our island!