The Roots of Bilingual Education
A historical perspective on bilingual education is written in the article "Bilingual Education Traces its U.S. Roots to the Colonial Era" in the magazine Education Week. The author begins by writing, "Bilingual education has been part of the immigrant experience in America since the Colonial periods, when native-language schooling was the rule rather than the exception" (21). When immigrant groups settled in the United States they taught their children in their own languages, despite some attempts to impose English instruction. Many do not believe it but bilingual education was started before 1800 when German, French, Scandanavian, Polish, Dutch and Italian schools were established. From 1839 to 1880 French was the medium of instruction in Louisiana and from 1848 Spanish was the medium of instruction in New Mexico. In 1880-1917 German-English schools were established in Cincinnati, Baltimore and Indianapolis. The article mentions, "A resurgence of nativism in the late 19th century- a backlash against the foreign born, led by such organizations as the Know-Nothing Party- marked the beginning of a decline for bilingual education" (22). Bilingual education decreased significantly following World War I through the 1950’s. This decrease was due in large part to the intense nationalistic mood of the country during this period. President Roosevelt told immigrants, "There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism.. Any man who comes here… must adopt the institutions of the United States, and , therefore, he must adopt the language which is now the native tongue of our people, no matter what the several strains in our blood may be. It would not be merely a misfortune, but a crime to perpetuate differences in languages in this country" (22). After World War II missionaries created a softer approach to assimilation. In 1930’s English as a second language method was created to teach foreign diplomats and university students but then it was extended to minority children. Students were removed from regular "sink or swim" classrooms typically for 45 minutes a day, two to five times a week for compensatory instruction. It was not until 1963 when the bilingual schooling was reborn with the creation of the bilingual programs in Dade County, Florida by the Cubans who fled to Miami after the Cuban revolution in 1959.
Bilingual education is a comprehensive educational approach that involves more than just learning English skills. Children are taught all the areas first in their native language. Oral expressions and reading are developed in native language courses and English is taught formally in English as a Second Language classes. Once the children have learned to speak English, they are taught to read it. Instruction through English in cognitive areas begins when the child can function in that language and experiences no academic handicap due to insufficient knowledge of the language.