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Bilingual Education History Essay

1485 words - 6 pages

Policy in the United States towards foreign languages has long been a complicated process. The nation was founded by polyglot immigrants and welcomed, to varying degrees, many subsequent waves of immigrants speaking languages familiar and foreign. Most immigrants learned English and despite efforts to maintain their mother tongue, the “permissiveness and apathy” of American society towards second languages allowed the gradual erosion of many mother tongues. English, although the common language in schools, the courts, government, and the business community in the United States, is not the official language of our country. This fact juxtaposes paradoxically with the necessity of speaking English for success in our society, and the dying out of many languages native to immigrants after the third generation. Since no official policy at the federal level governs the official language of the United States, nor the teaching of foreign languages until after the Second World War, language education in the U.S. remained a patchwork of local policies.
During the Cold War, foreign language education policy became a larger national concern, yet the establishment of foreign language education abutted a long-standing “English Only” attitude in the U.S. The two are linked, as the decrease in students studying foreign languages can be directly tied to the xenophobia during World War II that, in some cases, outlawed the teaching of foreign languages. William Riley Parker directly links the two, citing that the decrease in students studying foreign language was a result of the phobia of Germans that swept the nation during the 1940s. Thus to fully understand the literature on foreign language policy, the various skeins of history: foreign language education policy, immigrant language maintenance, and English-only policy, must be linked.
The development of foreign language education in the schools can be classified into four basic eras. The first two, which this section will not discuss, include the beginnings of American education where “foreign language” education the study of Greek and Latin, and the beginnings of the modern school system, in which electives allowed more than 40% of students to study foreign languages such as French and German by 1915. During this time bilingual education flourished as well, with a large German population demanding bilingual education in the Midwest and eastern United States, and bilingual schools serving Spanish-speaking children in the Southwest. This section will discuss the next three eras of foreign language education policy: first, the xenophobic squelching of foreign language speaking and teaching that represented the first modern incarnation of the “English only” fervor; next, the linking of foreign language education and national security during the Cold War era; and finally, the period of the 70s, 80s, and 90s that experienced a back and forth between the two poles of English only and language as national...

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