Blog Post #4 & 5 (Due April 11)

Reflect on the examples of bilingual education that you saw in the documentary film, Speaking in Tongues, last Thursday.  Drawing on explicit examples and/or extrapolations of issues raised in this film, provide your own argument for or against the establishment of a bilingual school in your home town/city or, if you prefer, South Bend.  Explain your reasoning using examples from our course readings.  (aim for 300-400 words)

*Note: Arguments against a bilingual school are just as welcome as those advocating for such models.  My own stipulation is that you provide a thoughtful rationale for your choice by drawing on the film and our course content.

15 thoughts on “Blog Post #4 & 5 (Due April 11)

  1. I believe the establishment of a bilingual school in my hometown of Grosse Pointe, MI, or any other American city, would be a vital addition the economic and intellectual development of a community. As the world becomes smaller due to technological advances and the United States becomes increasingly bilingual, the necessity for a bilingual school has never been more apparent. Students who enroll in this school will reap the benefits of bilingualism at an early age as they enter university life and search for a career path in a global marketplace.

    One of the biggest regrets of my educational life and intellectual development is not mastering a second language. While I have always thought the concept of bilingualism is exhilarating, I have never been invested in the process due to lack of time and motivation. My monolingualism is an unfortunate, but factual aspect of my resume as I will begin to search for a job as a television news reporter next year. In this particular industry, bilingualism would be a fantastic asset to hold, but as of today, I have accepted the fact that a hiring may be contingent upon my nonexistent second language skills.

    I could have benefited greatly from attending a bilingual school. Like many of the students from Speaking in Tongues, bilingualism is something viewed as ‘aspirational’ or ‘cool’ in their particular educational environment. Many of the students who came from monolingual homes owe their bilingualism entirely to their respective school. In return, these institutions give their students something greater than a basic elementary education. They give their students a golden ticket to a international economy.

    Even on a smaller scale, bilingualism is a tremendous advantage to any individual living in Detroit, a diverse, urban epicenter that quite literally connects one global superpower with another. The high influx of Canadiens who cross the border daily, many of whom speak both English and French, along with numerous immigrants from every continent who now call themselves Detroiters are sufficient reasons to encourage bilingualism in area schools.

  2. The statistic that stuck with me most strongly from “Speaking in Tongues” is that one third of students entering kindergarten in the United States will not speak English by 2025. To me, this means that every community needs to develop a strategy to reflect the country’s changing demographics and educational needs. How is the U.S. supposed to compete in an increasingly globalized world with citizens who struggle in basic academic concepts? This struggle, as the movie explains, centers on language mastery for English as a Second Language students because their competency in school is often straddled between their native language and English. Developing bilingual students does not have negative affects in their overall academic knowledge acquisition; in fact, Jim Cummins explains that most evidence points to “positive consequences for metalinguistic development” and the benefits of children learning a second language. (Cummins 38) Therefore, bilingual education benefits not only the growing number of students speaking a minority language and needing to learn English but also native English speakers who can reap many benefits from bilingualism.

    Students who maintain fluency in their native language perform statistically much better in their classes taught in English, a notion supported by both the movie and studies Jim Cummins. Cummins explains: “There is considerable evidence of interdependence of literacy-related or academic skills across languages…such that the better developed children’s L1 conceptual foundation, the more likely they are to develop similarly high levels of conceptual abilities in their L2.” (Cummins 38)

    To return to the concept of the globalized world, bilingualism would be beneficial to students in my hometown because of the opportunities it would provide to them. Cleveland may be a northern, traditional midwestern city, but its minority population is increasing rapidly, across all industries, along with the rest of the country. Bilingual schools would help advance non-native English speakers in the academic and societal realms of the city because, as Cummins explains, knowing English fluently is crucial to a sense of belonging in mainstream society. Cummins also emphasizes the importance of parental involvement in their child’s learning of another language. I think that my hometown, being of middle class socio-economic status and with young people generally aiming to attend college after high school, would be conducive to such parental investment in bilingual education. I imagine them to be willing to send their children to bilingual schools and proud of their achievements there, such as Darrell’s mom after sending him to a bilingual Chinese school.

  3. The US takes pride in its monolingualism, though the film Speaking in Tongues points out that this is a weakness. Our country is so linguistically diverse and culturally rich; it is quickly becoming necessary for Americans to speak more than one language. In 2025, a third of children will not speak English upon entering kindergarten. What’s more, these children will learn English better if they have the chance to study their native language. South Bend needs a bilingual school to cater to both monolingual speakers of English and children who speak other languages, namely Spanish.

    According to the 2010 census, over 13,000 Latinos live in South Bend. Though they do not necessarily speak Spanish, many of them do. The children of new immigrants to South Bend often speak little English when starting school. As we discussed in class, children learn a second language better if they have first developed literacy skills in their native language. These children would learn English better if some of their classes were taught in Spanish. On the other hand, monolingual children would benefit from learning Spanish, as it is the most widely spoken language in the US, after English. We live in a global world, and as Kelly’s father said in the film, “[The next generation]’s gotta have more tools”. Language is an incredibly valuable tool, and while English is definitely a powerful language, that does not mean that native English speakers are exempt from learning additional languages.

    The film’s claim that bilingual speakers have larger brain capacities is backed up by mountains of research. Children who attend bilingual schools score at or above the level of their peers on standardized tests. Bilingual education is a gift to our children. It gives them access to a whole new world of cultural capital, access to a new range of identities, and access to the tools they need to succeed in a multilingual world.

  4. I am for the establishment of a bilingual school teaching both English and Chinese in my home city, Jiaxing, China.
    First, a good mastery of English is crucial in China these days and it is way more efficient for kids to learn English in an immersive environment instead of having English lessons everyday in a non-immersive environment. In the documentary, some kids in the Mandarin-immersion school are black and do not have mandarin environment at home. However, they can speak fairly good mandarin after only two years of study in the bilingual school. In their classroom, their Chinese teacher speaks Chinese only so that they have to speak Chinese to her. On the contrary, in ordinary Chinese primary school, kids take English classes but only a few English words are used in every class and after four years most kids end up not even being able to say a complete sentence in English. Although it is still possible for people to reach native-like fluency when they become older, less investment is needed when they are younger. Also, according to the documentary, it is found by scientific research that it helps kids to learn other things better when they learn a second language. The students in the bilingual school tested better on English in standardized tests than students in English-only schools. What’s more, as Julian, a boy in a mandarin immersion school in the documentary, said, “China has become part of me”, learning a foreign language in a bilingual school can have a huge impact on the child’s identity. Especially helpful in this process are the cultural events and opportunities such as traditional festival celebration and making friends with native speakers offered by bilingual schools. In a globalized world, it is important that children form globalized perspective since young age so that they would view and deal with things more comprehensively. Although it would be costly to operate a bilingual school, successful running of one would have big positive influence on a child’s development.

  5. Although children benefit from bilingual education, I would not recommend the establishment of a bilingual school in my hometown because the current financial state of the district means that such investment is unsustainable and impractical.
    I live in the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) School District, which is in a state of “moderate financial recovery”. The district currently faces a $437 million debt, which is to be paid over the next 25 years. Despite the fact that the district closed 5 schools and furloughed 1/3 of its staff (500 employees) this past year alone, the budget deficit will still be $11.7 million. The financial issues in my district are not without impact, as demonstrated by the districts alarmingly low graduation rate of 45% (compare to the state average of 83%).
    One of the biggest threats to the financial well-being of the school district is the “exodus” of students (more than 2,000 in the past five years) to charter schools: this year, payments to charter schools will exceed $8 million. Although I am not one to advocate a program that limits students’ school choice, money used to fund the establishment of one new charter school will benefit fewer students than money used to improve the already-established public schools. A bilingual charter school would cost even more money than average because specially trained teachers fluent in the L2 and second-language resources are both difficult to come by and expensive. Harrisburg is not a very attractive place to live – the city itself struggles even more than its schools – and the chances of attracting qualified teachers who will stay with the district in the long term would be low.
    At this point, the district cannot afford to go in on such a risky and costly venture. The money would be better spent by bringing back the Pre-kindergarten programs that were cut last year and by instituting early education programs which would improve the early literacy rates, which currently hover around 35%.
    [All statistics taken from Pennlive.com]

  6. I absolutely believe that my hometown of Marietta, GA would benefit from the introduction of bilingual education. One of the most astounding statistics from “Speaking in Tongues” for me was the fact that by 2025, one-third of the children in our elementary schools will not speak English as a first language. Regardless of how people feel about this statistic, or the popular belief that all people in America should speak English, I think that as a country, we need to prepare for a generation that speaks more than one language.

    Personally, I am from an area where there are a LOT of people who strongly believe that English should be spoken by all immigrants to the United States. To a certain extent, I agree with them. I’ve always believed that if you are visiting or staying in a country for an extended period of time, then you should make a valiant effort to ascertain at least a working knowledge of the major language(s) spoken in that country. Therefore, just as an immigrant to America should do their best to learn English, travelers to France should try to learn French, soldiers stationed in the Middle East should try to learn Arabic, etc. This is important to me because I feel like it establishes respect for the native culture with which or in which a new person is interacting.

    However, I do not believe that English is inherently a better language than any other language. According to my philosophy, so long as a person visiting/living in a new culture can speak the major language of that area, there’s no problem with them also keeping and using their own first language. When I go to the local Chinese place and find the owner speaking to his wife in Mandarin, what do I care what language he speaks normally so long as he can complete my transaction with me in English? Just as if I were to visit France, why would the natives care that I speak English with my family so long as I do my best to converse in French with them?

    I think that the establishment of bilingual schools in my area would help erase the stigma held against speaking a first language that is different from English. Many of the other posters here have brought up statistics about the increasingly global job market and the importance of language in that society, and they’re right. However, for me, bilingual schools in my area would be more important in erasing the cultural stigmas against foreigners. Many other countries have populations that speak more than one native language — what makes America different?

  7. I believe that my hometown of Columbus, Ohio would benefit tremendously from the introduction of a bilingual education program. As a rapidly expanding and extremely diverse Midwestern city, I think that Columbus is in an ideal position to establish a new precedent in the educational domain. Because of its stable economy, well-respected institutions of higher education, and rich cultural landscape, Columbus has recently been attracting more and more people from all walks of life and is home to a large population of Latinos, West Africans, Asians, and other ethnic groups, all of whom have successfully carved a niche for themselves. Unlike in some other cities, there is a sense of integration in Columbus – for example, I feel just as welcome visiting German Village or the area of town in which the Vietnamese population traditionally resides as I do in the my fairly homogenous suburb.

    Because Columbus has been able to successfully accommodate a large variety of diverse groups with little noticeable cultural tension, I believe that it would be an ideal location in which to design and implement an experimental bilingual program. There would be many opportunities to show students the relevance of learning a second language – in many parts of the city, a hospitable second language community is less than a 20 minute drive away – and to stress the importance of second language acquisition in the global business world. The part of the video that most surprised me was the claim of a strong research foundation that learning a second language enhances the comprehension and skills associated with the first language. This would be an additional benefit for the students in the public school system. Furthermore, because of Columbus’ robust economy, the introduction of bilingual education seems to be viable from a financial standpoint.

    The video made it clear to me that bilingual education is the direction in which we should be heading in the future. There is little downside to having a well-educated population who can bridge the gap between cultures and languages. Our country’s lack of investment in bilingual education is damaging the prospects of individuals who wish to contribute on an international scale to a better and more tolerant world.

  8. The evidence in favor of bilingual schooling that encourages learning and coursework in two languages is overwhelming. Research in the field of linguistics and language acquisition has presented the academic research to prove so, and high test scores of students who have had this educational experience corroborate these findings. This is because students who are able to develop literacy in their first language are able to more easily transfer these skills to their second language, instead of trying to learn a language and literacy in that language concurrently. In areas where there are large populations of English learners, bilingual schools are easily the most beneficial way for second language learners to ensure that they have the opportunity to develop the same academic skills as students whose native language is also the language of instruction. Thus, areas with higher populations of people whose first language is not English should be required by law establish bilingual schools which meet the needs of their students, and in other areas without these high populations should also have the option of establishing a bilingual school or at least providing similar ESL resources.

    One of the most interesting aspects that I found in the documentary that created a problem for bilingual education was the case of the boy who was a native Spanish speaker, attended a bilingual school, and preferred to speak in English to the extent where he avoided speaking Spanish. Although the school was bilingual and students were speaking and learning in both Spanish and English, the Spanish language was still not valued socially among students. For young students, perceptions of language and social pressures have a huge influence on how they construct their identity. Essentially, schools must show students that both languages are worth investing in. They can do this by not only teaching students about the history and culture of Spanish-speaking countries, but by also showing current movies or television shows that allow students to live the day-to-day culture of native speakers living in their own country. Reducing culture to dance performances and costumes like we saw in Speaking Tongues is, to an extent, inauthentic in relationship to culture and life experiences that are almost mundane. However, in this case the mundane is also the “real world”; another important factor for language learning is that students must find it useful. Thus, this should be an essential component in ESL educational methods to ensure that the students themselves see the value in their own education.

  9. To the Albemarle County and Charlottesville City School Boards:

    Charlottesville, Virginia is home to a growing number of Spanish-speaking migrant workers, who find employment in the many orchards and vineyards in the surrounding countryside; to an increasingly large refugee population, fleeing war-torn countries and oppressive governments; to the University of Virginia, a bastion of higher education which attracts students and scholars from around the country and the world; to the house and history of Thomas Jefferson, the man who penned the great American document founding our nation on the ideals that all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To not institute bilingual education in such a place would be nothing less than paradoxical. The University of Virginia requires that students learn a second language. How can our school system seek to eliminate bilingualism? UVA offers courses in 19 languages. How can our school system elevate just one? The irony of a strongly multi-cultural and diverse university juxtaposed against a uniform and mono-lingual/mono-cultural school system is, in and of itself, an argument for bilingual education. Why erase early on what we strive for later?

    Bilingual education is not all about, however, cultural and linguistic diversity. There is an inherent practicality to it. Yes, in choosing to make their homes in the United States and benefit from our public schools and other social services, immigrants or refugees languages should be willing to accept and acculturate to life in the US, with the use of English being an important characteristic of that life. Bilingual education programs do not emphasize second language over English but rather create a learning environment in which the difficult process of new language acquisition does not become a barrier to academic progress and achievement. When bright, eager young students are suddenly thrown years backwards developmentally and academically simply due to low-level second-language skills, their education suffers; their social development suffers; their self-esteem suffers; their chances of graduating high school suffer. Research has proven that students in bilingual education programs master English and are less likely to fall behind academically. In supporting bilingual education programs we are fostering strong, academically-prepared students. In opposing such programs, we are only limiting the return immigrant and refugee children can contribute to society.

    And, as here in Charlottesville we frequently ask, What Would Jefferson Do?, let us think how Thomas Jefferson, one of the strongest proponents of education for all, would have considered bilingual education. He would have seen it as an opportunity to create a more fully educated populace. He would have seen it as a worthwhile investment in the future of our country, of which all of these students are now a part. A quality education should not be denied a student simply because she learned another language first. Bilingual education is an important step towards equal access to education and, according to TJ, “…education is the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the conditions, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.”

  10. In my hometown of Miami, FL, bilingual education is already in place. While it is not a widespread educational practice, I believe that further development of it will only bring forth positive results. Miami is composed of a very heavily multi-ethnic population in which there are many language communities including, English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole. It is clear that there are several cracks in the American educational system that hold back many of the students, namely, racial and socio-economic inequalities that are found in schools around the United States.The problems are exacerbated in racially and economically diverse areas like Miami-Dade County. According to the U.S. Department of Education Choice Report of 2004, only 10 percent of its students are non-Hispanic whites.Miami-Dade has done much to try and counter the gaps that are created trough racial and socioeconomic segregation in the system.

    Bilingual education allows for a more well-rounded student and soon adult. As we saw in the film, Speaking in Tongues, many people feel that English should be the official language of the United States and that straying from this idea is un-American. However, I would argue that being fluent in two languages, such as English and Spanish, does not make you less of an American; it just creates more pathways to the American dream. It creates more opportunities for people to better themselves and provides them with an advantage over the average mono-lingual American. One Miami school in particular, Coral Way Elementary, stresses “biliteracy,” a step above bilingalism, meaning they can speak, read, write, and understand two languages. This, however, is very difficult and presents a problem for the students as well as the teachers. While the system is flawed, Florida has been at the forefront of helping non-native speakers adapt to a new system of education through bilingual education. This is far from a cure-all for the educational woes in Florida and the country, but it is an important move in securing everyone in the community gets a fair share of the education pie.

  11. I believe the establishment of bilingual schooling would be extremely beneficial in a city like South Bend, Indiana. I personally believe that these establishments would be advantageous in cities across America as they offer a unique opportunity to youth and adolescents.
    Specifically in South Bend, there is a large Spanish speaking population and this may continue to increase over the years. Therefore, the increasing population of non-native speakers, needs to be addressed in a way that encourages their languages. Diversity will only continue to rise. I am aware of certain ESL programs offered in South Bend, but there are none that are as extensive or comprehensive as the programs that we learned about in Speaking in Tongues. The schools that we observed in the movie had a school board behind their efforts, with resources, teachers, textbooks, etc. The students were receiving a quality education where teachers were truly invested in their bilingualism and academic advancement. This is something that is owed to all youth in America.
    With the process of globalization in the past few decades, it is apparent that bilingualism and multilingualism are aspects that are highly valued. Workplaces often seek people who can speak multiple languages as our world and cultures become more intertwined. It is essential that we are able to communicate with one another and that conflict or a failure to reach the highest potential is not due to a lack of communicative abilities.
    The case that was most moving and most convincing of the fact that bilingual schooling would be beneficial was that of Durell. It was especially exemplary for a few reasons. Firstly, Durell is a minority so his capability to learn a second language at the age of 6 to a fluent level breaks the negative stereotypes that are held for minorities. Secondly, he was only 6 years old and speaking a language fluently. To be able to speak a second language that is not practiced inside your home at the age of 6 is impressive. Thirdly, his encounter with language speakers of the same language in the department store showed his true potential and possibilities for the future. Strangers told a 6 year old that he could become the Chinese ambassador because of his ability to speak the language. His case shows the potential possibilities that bilingual schooling can offer to America’s youth.

  12. It is difficult for me to imagine a situation in which bilingual education would not be a positive addition to the American school system. In addition to bilingualism being the “cool” thing or an extra line on any resume, there are so many more cultural benefits for such a policy.

    The United States is actually unique in its monolingualism. In most other countries, especially Europe, children learn at least 2 if not 3 or 4 languages. The US is both advantaged and disadvantaged that most often, the second language children in other countries learn is English. I feel this has caused many English speakers to feel a sense of superiority, as was evidenced by some of those music videos.

    I believe bilingual education can serve as a way to expose US students to other cultures and teach them that no one culture has inherent superiority over another. We live in a globalized world and well as an ever-expanding bilingual population and it is in the best interests of schools to prepare students for the current state of things.

    I think that one of the key points of bilingual education is that it teaches both languages at the academic level I order to truly foster fluency. Whether the student speaks English or a second language at home, they will be receiving adequate exposure to both languages at school. It is also significant in that the examples in the movie, students were still scoring at or above grade level. I think there is a concern that in learning a second language, students will lose their ability to be proficient in English, but this was proven to be false. In the case of one of the boys, he actually began to favor his English over his Spanish.
    Lastly, I believe bilingual education, especially in Spanish, could help alleviate the achievement gap in the US between white and minority students. A lot of these students fail in school because they are expected to keep up in English classes without fully learning the language. In such cases they neither become fully literate in English nor Spanish, which results in lower achievement in drop-out rates.

    I think by acknowledging our growing Latino population and growing and evolving our education system together, achievement and culture awareness can be raised for all.

  13. Bilingual education would, I believe, be beneficial to a community like South Bend mainly because it would increase the diversity and expose children to opportunities they may not have had before, like how the boys in Speaking in Tongues were able to connect with another culture and gain ambitions like visiting a foreign country one day or becoming an ambassador to another country. While it would be hard to support these endeavors because of the relatively poor economy of the South Bend school district, I believe that universities like Notre Dame could invest in some programs to help the primary and secondary school levels have these programs. It would especially be beneficial for universities to invest in these courses and help schools develop them because it would allow for a more well-rounded applicant pool for when these students grow up and apply to university.

    Speaking in Tongues makes it evident that, in the best possible cases, students become more ambitious once they are given this opportunity to learn a language outside of their own. Not only that but it seems to increase the likelihood that these students will continue their schooling in order to attain their ambitions. While there will always remain opposition to bilingual education, like how some parents were steadfast in their beliefs that English should be the main language in schools because we are in America, I believe this kind of insistence on monolingualism is counterintuitive to the good futures we want for our children. Our monolingualism promotes a sense of superiority or cultural ignorance that makes America seem like a harsh and unaccommodating country. In a world that is becoming increasingly global, we cannot trust that every nation will continue to teach their youth English. What if, like us, one day they change their minds and decide that every other nation should learn their language? Where will we be then if every country refuses to accommodate the other so far as language goes?