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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Point\Counterpoint

    Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich made waves over the weekend when he stated that bilingual education encourages immigrant students to speak “”the language of living in a ghetto.”” Gingrich’s comments hit home here in Arizona, where a federal district judge recently ruled that the state’s English Language Learner (ELL) program does not provide adequate funding to school districts. Is “”total immersion”” better than bilingual education?

    ‘Total immersion’ doesn’t work

    For what it’s worth, I think Gingrich is correct: Immigrants, in general, have far lower socioeconomic status than native students. But the fact that Spanish, in our case, is the language of many poor and disadvantaged folks is the precise reason why bilingual education ought to be encouraged.

    Some assert that total immersion is the optimal way to teach a language, and they are absolutely correct. However, there are several reasons why this is not a viable solution for immigrants in the United States.

    First, “”total immersion”” is impossible to duplicate in a school environment. The kind of exposure that actually emerges is merely micro-immersion: students are exposed only to English for six hours, then go home. But when they go home, they are far more likely to use their native language with their parents.

    Forcing students to speak only in one language works primarily out of necessity. If they have to communicate every single idea they have in a foreign language, you can bet they’ll pay excellent attention to the way that language is spoken, and they’ll figure out how to use it.

    However, as soon as students head home and meet up with their families, all of this work is undone. Students then ask themselves, “”Can I make it through the next six hours without having to speak very much?”” When they arrive home, they can retreat into the comfort of their native language.

    Second, even a partial immersion approach only works if the affected students actually stay in school. To demonstrate this, I performed a small study on my own. I opened up my freshman high school yearbook, then compared it to the list of seniors at my high school graduation. The result? Very few Johnsons or Joneses missing – but many Hispanic names appeared on the first list, then vanished on the second.

    Chalk it up to cultural differences if you want to, but the solid point here is that schools are not doing everything they can to retain immigrant students.

    Instead, schools are dropping them into the fire of English-based classes, so to speak. But can we really expect students to both excel in math, science, and writing and learn an entirely different language at the same time? For the majority of immigrant students, it leads to poor grades and, when all other options have been exhausted, an excuse to drop out of school, cementing their poor socioeconomic status.

    English-only education discourages class participation and the critical interaction between parents, teachers and students. But bilingual education provides a sensible way for immigrant students to catch up, and – if a sensible program is adopted – to ensure that the language of immigrants does not need to be the language of “”living in a ghetto.””

    Taylor Kessinger is a sophomore majoring in physics, math, and philosophy. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

    Voters, experience counsel total immersion

    Anyone who has taken a foreign language in a limited school setting can attest to the fact that even four semesters of instruction leaves a student far from proficient. However, students who spend as little as six months immersed in a language in another country come back fluent or very nearly so.

    English immersion is an attempt to replicate this efficient language learning process in the classroom. Although English immersion in school is only a “”micro-immersion,”” as students will often return home to family that cannot speak English, it is at least an attempt at creating an immersion environment.

    The goal of all educational programs should be to teach as much as possible with the greatest chance of student retention. English immersion accomplishes this in a way that no other language program can.

    Studies conducted in 2004, after Arizona voters approved an English immersion measure, show that students in immersion programs do better on Stanford Achievement Tests than their counterparts in bilingual education classes. By grade four, students in English immersion classes begin to do markedly better than those in bilingual classes.

    By the time students hit eighth grade there was a 19-point difference in overall scores between immersed students and students kept in a bilingual classroom.

    Moreover, the valued American tradition of expressing public concerns at the ballot box also speaks loud and clear to what the people want. Voters in this state and others have repeatedly spoken through direct means, like propositions, and by electing and re-electing representatives that continually push the issue.

    In 1997, voters in California approved Proposition 227 with 61 percent of the vote. By 1999 similar legislation, Proposition 203, received 63 percent of the vote in Arizona. Even in a liberal state like Massachusetts, an English immersion proposition called Question 2 passed with 70 percent of the vote.

    Some states have turned down English immersion bills, but the message is hardly resounding when compared to the majorities that pass the legislation. In Colorado, Amendment 31 was defeated with only 55 percent of the vote.

    From coast to coast, red state to blue, the people have expressed a desire for English immersion programs in schools.

    In the Arizona English Language Learner court case, Flores v. Arizona, it has been the work of Federal Judge Raner Collins – one person – to overturn the repeatedly-expressed, widely-held view of the people.

    Although the Flores case has focused on how much money the state should dedicate to students learning English, the original suit was filed because the plaintiffs claimed the state did not provide adequate instruction for students learning English as a second language.

    The people have voiced their opinion – repeatedly and by large margins – that English immersion is the method we should have in our country.

    And the students struggling to learn a language they must be proficient in to succeed in this country deserve no less.

    Kara Karlson is a journalism senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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