I remember vividly that Governor Bush distanced himself publicly from his fellow GOP governor’s positions. Governor Bush reaffirmed Texas’s commitment to bilingual education, which was very much appreciated by and reassuring to my fellow bilingual education teachers. During this period, Governor Bush also liked to emphasize his own close ties to leaders in Mexico, and his admiration for Texas’s Latino population. In his two races for governor, he often campaigned partially Spanish. Though his Spanish was not that good, I personally did appreciate his attempts and his cultural sensitivity.
In that political context, and despite the conservative political climate where I taught, there was never a wavering of support for bilingual education by the staff or administrators. Outside of that context, I have sometimes heard ignorant proponents of English-only laws assert that bilingual education is a crutch for linguistic minorities, who should just stop being lazy, learn English and assimilate with the dominant culture. Those ignorant assertions frustrate me for a host of reasons.
The reality is that at least in Texas public schools when I was a grade school teacher, bilingual education for language minority students had nothing to do with promoting mastery of languages other than English or celebrating the culture of a particular racial or ethnic group. Instead, modern bilingual education came about after a Supreme Court case, Lau v. Nichols, recognized that instruction in only English deprived a meaningful education to children who did not yet speak English or who only spoke it a little. See Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974). The Court’s opinion required that school districts do something to remedy that situation and meet the children’s needs. Bilingual education in public schools is one strategy to meet those needs.
At least where I taught, bilingual education was limited to just elementary school, and by junior high students had to be ready for English only instruction. As a result, the focus of bilingual education where I taught was to teach kids core subjects in their first language (e.g., Spanish or Vietnamese), while they were taught English intensively during part of the day. If you don’t teach linguistic minority kids in their first language while their English skills are still weak, they fall behind in the core subjects. By the time they get competent enough in English to function well in an English only classroom (e.g., by the end of elementary school), they are too far behind to catch up in their core subjects.
As a kindergarten bilingual education teacher, I taught my students their letter sounds and reading, math (including counting by tens, simple fractions, adding and subtracting), science, and social studies all in Spanish. However, I also spent significant time every day teaching them English. At the beginning of the year, few of my students spoke any English, so we would start out with ESL lessons that lasted an hour or less. But by the end of the year, half our school day was spent speaking English. By then, my students could sing dozens of songs in English, understand simple stories in English, and discuss addition problems in English. At the beginning of the school year, my students mainly played with each other on the playground. Due to their inability to speak English, they self-segregated. But by Christmas break, they were starting to feel confident enough in English that they began to play with the kids who spoke only (or primarily) English. By the end of the year, everyone was playing in an integrated fashion, which was very gratifying.
"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."