While California debates whether to stop teaching school children in two languages, the school system in Miami, Florida is expanding bilingual education. This city at the crossroads of the Americas is expanding bilingual education under the argument that students will need to speak, read and write in English and Spanish when they reach the business world. The decision to do this almost seems natural for a metropolis where the top-rated television stations broadcast in Spanish, the top-ranked newspaper publishes a separate Spanish daily edition, many top civic leaders speak effortless Spanish and Latinos have become the majority. Educators in Miami, home to the first bilingual public school in the modern era, are baffled by the cultural and political firefight over bilingual education in California. Nowhere is the controversy more intense than in California. On June 2, 1998 there was a vote on an anti-bilingual education initiative, Proposition 227.
This proposition would end most bilingual programs in California and give students with limited English skills about one year of special English classes before placing them in the mainstream. To even have something like this on the Ballot in California seems very odd. California has more students with limited English skills than any other state. California has approximately 1.4 million students with limited English and about 30% of them are in formal bilingual programs, including some two-way programs. The most common approach in California is "transitional" bilingual education, in which students often spend more time being taught in their native language than in English for their first school years.
Due to the large population of Spanish speakers in California I would think that educators would want to mock Miami's style of teaching both English and Spanish. In Miami educators view it differently than they do in California. They look at bilingual education as a business opportunity for students. Miami's trades with Latin America amount to billions of dollars a year. Top business leaders say that Miami can not afford to do with out bilingual education. James F. Partridge, chief of Latin American and Caribbean operations for Visa International said, "I don't give a hoot about the political aspects of it.
To me, that's a lot of garbage. I am interested in the financial well being of this community. We need bilingual people to survive". Partridge is so concerned about the issue that his office gives remedial lessons in Spanish and Portuguese to dozens of employees whose weak bilingual skills don't allow them to communicate with clients in those languages. The pro-bilingual movement for over 340,000 students in Miami highlights several issues often overlooked in debates about California's Proposition 227. In California, bilingual education is usually seen as a program just for students with limited English skills.
But in Miami, bilingual education is sold as a program for everyone. I like this approach. If a large portion of the population speaks Spanish than it is only common sense to teach students who don't know English, English and students who don't know Spanish, Spanish. If everyone could speak the two most common used languages in that community than communication would be much better. I say the two most common used languages are good enough. Our educators don't have the time or money to teach every language spoken.
Like Whittemore says in her essay Endangered Languages "Then there is the irony of increased literacy: As more native people receive formal education, schools cannot print textbooks in every language". If states can teach the two most common languages than it will benefit them greatly. It would also be easier for students moving to California from Mexico or Central America. Americans even have trouble pronouncing names of people from Central America. Sometimes students are forced to change their birth names to fit in. This issue was addressed in the essay Taking in the New Land written by Edit Cunha.
The teacher in this essay Mrs. Donahue tells a young Portuguese girl to change her name. She tells her "In America you only need two or three names. Mary Edith is a lovely name. And it will be easier to pronounce". If every student were forced to learn the two most common languages in their community than issues like this would not occur. Also by teaching two languages students will not forget how to speak their native language.
In California, many people assume that the children of immigrants can learn their native language from family while studying only English at school. In Miami, many people have concluded that native language skills erode without help from schools. Consider the story of Hilda Garcia, 26, born to Cuban parents and raised in Miami. She spoke Spanish at home but attended English-only schools as a child. She currently works for a steamship line that does business with Panama, and she finds her Spanish lacking considerably. Her company receives faxes and e-mails in Spanish.
Hilda has to have three dictionaries next to her so she can read them. Hoping to give her 6 year old son a formal grounding in Spanish, she has enrolled him in Coral Way Elementary School. At Coral Way Elementary all students spend three hours a day learning English in one classroom and two hours in Spanish in another classroom. There are no distinctions made among the newcomer from Nicaragua who has limited English ability, the young Haitian who speaks mainly English and Creole and the third-generation Cuban American who knows a bit of Spanish and a lot of English. About a third of the school's student's start with limited English skills, but nearly all are close to fluency by the third grade. Principal Mig dania D. Vega has hosted legions of out-of-town educators to try and spread her schools way of bilingual education.
My own beliefs are that bilingual education is a necessity not only in California but also in any state where two languages are spoken by a large portion of the population. Miami has a great way of teaching bilingual education. I think states like California and Texas should adopt these teaching styles. Maybe Miami has adapted to bilingual education so well due to the fact that at least half of the businesses there do at least 25% of their work in Spanish. In a survey done by the University of Miami it was found that 95% of businesses agreed on the importance of a bilingual work force. They also found that people who know both English and Spanish earned an average of $3000.00 more a year than those who only know English.
Maybe it will take time for people in other states like California and Texas to realize the importance of a bilingual education for our children..