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Bilingual Education

History

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The History of Bilingual Education in America

As we look back at the history of education in America, we see resistance to bilingual education from the very beginning.  In the early 1700’s Benjamin Franklin promoted ‘Anglicization’ of non-English speaking colonists, especially Germans, as a means to cultural domination for the Anglo-Protestants.

 

   After the revolution, we see Noah Webster’s patriotic Speller and nationalist agenda further strengthening the dominant position of the English language and the Anglo-Protestant culture.  His philosophy was that the new Republic was fragile and must be strengthened by uniting the citizens with a common language and ideology.

 

     European Americans insatiable desire for Native American lands led to policies of deculturization throughout the 19th century.  Forcing the Native American children to learn English and abandon their native language and customs was a key component to these policies.

 

     Finally we come to the Mexican-American War in 1848 where we can see how the challenges facing Mexican Americans today first took root.  Despite promises made in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the conquered Mexicans were denied citizenship, segregated, and forced to learn English.  Later, in the beginning of the 20th century, Mexicans were encouraged not to go to school and learn English, so as to remain a source of cheap agricultural labor.  Also, at this time, we see Mexican Americans forming the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  “LULAC was committed to a vision of the United States that was multicultural and multilingual,” (Spring, p 204) and pushed for bilingual education.

 

     It was not until 1974, however, that bilingual education was mandated by law.  The Supreme Court held in Lau v. Nichols that equal educational opportunities would, among other things, require special instruction for minority language students.

 

     Bilingual education programs began to flourish but then were curtailed in the 80’s during the conservative Reagan era.  During this time the programs focused almost exclusively on transitional education.  In other words, the bilingual programs were aimed at moving the student to all-English as soon as possible.  Hispanic groups complained that this was once again an attempt at deculturalization