Bilingual Education--Not So Impossible

Delta Winds cover 1998Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Bilingual Education--Not So Impossible

Mario Ochoa

From Richard Rodriguez, we receive the opportunity to review his essay "Bilingual Education: Outdated and Unrealistic." This essay is about one person's opinion toward bilingual education. Richard Rodriguez begins by telling the reader that legislation concerning bilingual education was passed prematurely, that at the time not enough was known about the subject, much less how to teach it. He also believes that bilingual education is a product of politically angry middle-class Hispanics, copying the civil rights movements of the Blacks.

Mr. Rodriguez' point of view concerning bilingual education is one that is very interesting. It is a stand that is the opposite of what we would expect. Richard Rodriguez, a native Spanish speaker, strongly speaks out against bilingual education. His position is based on his belief that "language gets learned as it gets used" (459). In other words, the learner masters the language as he uses it. Language skills tend to sharpen if they are used consistently.

When I read this article, certain comments and references made by Rodriguez caught my attention. Most of these insinuations, I believe, are fabricated by the author. Mr. Rodriguez, for some reason, believes bilingual education is a means for Hispanics to vent their frustrations on white Americans. He feels that Hispanics, especially Mexican-Americans, use bilingual education as a means of revenge for past injustices. Mr. Rodriguez went as far as making a connection with bilingual education and the United States' acquisition of parts of the Southwest. Could Rodriguez be right? No, I believe that Mr. Rodriguez is far off; we all know that crying about history does not do a thing except waste time. Just maybe supporters of bilingual education actually care about how their bilingual cousins are educated.

While some of Rodriguez' comments were valid, others were missing some vital pieces of information. When Mr. Rodriguez leads us with an example of how a carpenter from the Republic of Latvia learned to read English over a short period of time, Mr. Rodriguez neglected to stress certain things. First of all, this carpenter from Latvia already knew how to read books of a certain amount of "complexity" (459). This can lead us to deduce that this person has a decent education. This is not always the case with all immigrants. Most immigrants come from a poor working-class family with limited or no formal education. As a result, another language cannot be taught effectively because the child does not even know his native tongue. A problem develops because the child does not have the necessary reading and writing skills.

Rodriguez mentions that a language is learned as it is used. I agree with him on this point because I had an opportunity to witness an intensive Spanish class in Mexico. It was a Spanish course attended by a group of American college students in Querétaro, México. The students had little or no Spanish speaking abilities. Over the next few months these students were forced to learn to read and speak Spanish. They learned remarkably fast because all communication with them was in Spanish. There was no one around that spoke English except for my family and we spoke to them in Spanish. The program was effective because the use of their native language was replaced by a need to learn the functioning language.

A question now remains. Can a program like the one mentioned work in the United States? It is highly likely that it can work in locations where the immigrant population is relatively small. However, in California, the program may not be effective for Hispanic immigrants. Because of California's huge Hispanic population, Spanish-speaking immigrants can function with few problems using only Spanish. In cities closer to the border, like Los Angeles and San Diego, one can go to any bank or just about any kind of establishment and one will be attended to in Spanish.

Also, a major factor is the constant arrival and departure of students into classes that are not self-contained. A newly arrived student tends to need more attention, drawing that attention away from other students. The problem encountered by a student who transfers from one school to another is that he has to adjust to a totally new atmosphere: the new curriculum, new teachers, new classmates.

The need for bilingual education is great and its reward could be quite advantageous. The better we educate immigrants--our newest assets--the more productive they will become. It would end up as a great advantage to our society to bring fresh cultures with a different perspective on life. In a nation like this one, with so many diverse cultures, bilingual education is needed to make the melting pot boil.


Work Cited

Rodriguez, Richard. "Bilingual Education: Outdated and Unrealistic." Connections: A Multicultural Reader for Writers. 2nd ed. Ed. Judith A. Stanford. Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing, 1993. 457-460.