Tuesday, January 04, 2005

ARRRRIBA! 11.6%?

According to the National Council of La Raza, an Hispanic advocacy organization, the percentage of what they now call “English Language Learners” – kids who can’t speak, read or write English – has reached 11.6% of the nation’s K-12 enrollment. That’s a 126 percent increase since 1991-92, La Raza says.

I can’t quite believe it’s that high, although the non-English speaking student population in Nebraska is indeed said to be increasing drastically. Spanish-speaking kids make up the largest population of ELL’s, although African and Asian children’s numbers are growing here, too.

Of course, my joke is that we’re going to wind up making our kids illiterate in not one, but TWO languages. That is, if we keep up the silly way we’re teaching English in schools today, or should I say, NOT teaching it. If both public and private schools continue to use Whole Language methods instead of phonics, fail to correct misspellings, and assign drivel literature instead of the great books and poems, our kids will end up with about the same English language facility as immigrants. While I’m fully in favor of foreign-language instruction, especially Spanish, in our schools, I can see some problems it causes in the use of instructional time, and the ability of our kids to master their native language, too.

What should parents, educators and taxpayers do about this?

First, the research is clear: NOBODY thinks bilingual education is the way to go anymore. It clearly doesn’t work. But some people think we need to take it slow on our language expectations for non-English speaking students because of the multidimensional complexities involved, while others think they should be totally immersed in nothing but English from Day One as in generations past in the U.S.

There’s a wide gulf between advocates on both sides of this one:

For a pro-Spanish language approach, see the National Council of La Raza, www.nclr.org

For a pro-English language approach, see U.S. English, Inc., www.us-english.org

I come down strong on the side of the pro-English folks, though I sympathize with the other side, too, and feel that all language instruction -- properly done -- enriches minds, no matter what the language is.

Hasta la vista, ciao, and a bientot!

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