Guest MINDSETTER™ Dr. Harold G. Devine: Should All Students Learn English?
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
In the May 31 edition of the LA Times, I saw an article that just made my hair hurt. My good friends from the ACLU of Southern California have filed a lawsuit alleging that, “State officials are neglecting their legal obligation to insure that students who are learning English are receiving an adequate and equal education.”
Now I have only been in education for forty seven (47) years and I’m sure that I don’t know nearly as much about teaching and learning as does the ACLU of Southern California. However, I do know that, until a student becomes proficient in English, he or she will never keep pace academically with his/her English speaking peers.
When you look through the rhetoric, it becomes clear that in order to “keep pace academically with their peers”, students would have to be taught all of the other subjects in their native language. That is the 500 lb. gorilla sitting right in the middle of this lawsuit.
That is quite different than the belief that students in the United States need to learn English in order to become assimilated into American culture. If you take the potential consequences of this lawsuit to its ridiculous extreme, it wouldn’t matter a lick whether or not an ELL student ever learned to speak the English language as long as they “kept pace academically with their peers across California”, whatever that might mean.
Besides the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars which would be necessary to perpetuate the expansion of bi-lingual education, the unintended (perhaps) consequence of this legislation would be a retardation of the efficiency of the assimilation of students into the English speaking mainstream.
With the development of high quality differentiated instructional materials becoming available to schools and students, the journey into the unrestricted classroom should come more rapidly. Teachers can now structure learning environments that address the variety of learning abilities found within a classroom. For example, it is now possible for students in the same classroom to read the same content article which has been written at several different levels of comprehension. This type of material is great for all kinds of learners, including ELL students.
There are a few understandings that must be made lest my opinions become distorted in the self serving rhetoric which has become so common to this whole issue. I am speaking about structured immersion as opposed to submersion. The difference is simple and should not be misunderstood. In structured immersion, students are taught English until they are prepared to function in a regular classroom without any additional assistance. In submersion students are placed into regular subject classrooms and taught in English all of the time. It’s sort of like the non-swimmers who are tossed into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim.
Critics of any type of direct English instruction argue that the research is inconclusive. Some of the research that I have seen is not very rigorous and some just plain sloppy.
Simple common sense should tell us that to become contributing members of the American culture, students should learn English as quickly and effectively as possible; unless, of course, assimilation into the American culture is not really the main goal at all.
Dr. Harold Devine began his teaching career in Providence, RI. He subsequently served as the Superintendent of Schools in Swansea, MA, Acushnet, MA and most recently as Superintendent of Schools in Little Compton, RI. He presently is serving as the Interim Executive Director at the East Bay Educational Collaborative in Warren, RI.
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