I was a bilingual elementary school teacher throughout California’s first experiment with bilingualism. Education today is different from then, but my experiences make me doubt that public schools can adequately address the challenges of a bilingual approach.
Here’s what happened:
▪ Teachers were never sufficiently educated or trained for teaching in two languages.
▪ Non-English materials for students were always inadequate and inferior to those available for all-English classes.
▪ After a few years of idealism, parents of fluent English speakers stopped placing their kids in bilingual classes, so “bilingual” classes became monolingual linguistic ghettos.
When faced with classes of students speaking a single non-English language and being tested in that that language, teachers taught in the language everyone understood. English instruction was limited to 20-30 minutes a day.
“Bilingual” classes became a school within a school. Their students didn’t interact with English speakers at school or hear any English at home. There was no urgency to improve such students’ English skills or transition them to all-English classes.
Eventually, California was graduating speakers of broken English, despite their having attended our schools since kindergarten. These young people were definitely not career or college ready.
Susan Weikel Morrison, Fresno