If we are to define linguistic diversity, then we must understand our government's perspective. History has shown that when bills become laws, it can be a result of a mass movement which initiated such policy. This article will briefly interpret two pivotal laws that are significant perspectives from the government when it comes to defining linguistic diversity and the support that it provides to bilingual students.The first law will be the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. And the second law will be the no Child Left Behind Act. It is also interesting to point out how the two laws the address an important issue, yet it's underlying intent is a different story. Prior to 1968, nothing was mentioned at the federal level as to the equal opportunity issues of bilingual students (Petrzela, 2010). Before we understand the Federal Bilingual Education act of 1968 we must understand the civil unrest of the 1960s. The act came in the midst of the Civil Rights era. As America was redefining itself racially, it's laws were attempting to keep in par with social development. Politicians recognize this shift in thought and noticed the upper hand in voting potential when it came to addressing these issues. Since social justice was a hot issue for the times, politicians drafted a bill to be fair when it came to preserving diversity and native languages. When the bill was created Senator Yarborough from Texas stated the following:
“the creation of bilingual-bicultural programs, the teaching of Spanish as a native language, the teaching of English as a second language, programs designed to impart to Spanish-speaking students a knowledge and pride in their culture, efforts to attract and retain as teachers promising individuals of Mexican or Puerto Rican descent, and efforts to establish closer cooperation between the school and the home (Schneider, 1976, p. 22).”
This paved the way for conserving and affirming diversity within the United States.
Thirty-five years later we can observe with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) a total shift in attitude. Since 2001, this has certainly been a subject of debate when it comes to education in United States.With the new law, bilingual students are now defined as English-Language Learners (ELLs). With this new label, the government’s involvement shifts from preserving linguistic diversity to assimilation and English-only instruction (Menken, 2013). Lawmakers claimed that students should learn the language of the land and that acquiring two languages at once could be detrimental to their education. However extensive research has demonstrated that preserving language diversity is essential for academic progress (Baker, 2011; Krashen & McField, 2005; Thomas & Collier, 2002). As a consequence of this new shift in English-only instruction, and the requirements for state-mandated testing, has led many to believe that bilingual students cannot achieve academic success (Menken, 2013). Testing a student on academic content through a second language is malpractice, yet this law implies that it is the correct approach to assess improvement. Furthermore, only bilingual students are required by law to be tracked on a yearly progress of English acquisition.
To anyone not familiar with appropriate second-language acquisition approaches, this may seem as an interest to help the student progress in our society. Yet the measure neglects to recognize and preserve the native culture. Policies that promote denial of linguistic diversities also speak of the state of collective opinion when it comes to addressing these issues. As stated before with the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, public support helped create the law. If this is true, then the same must be applied for the No Child Left Behind Act. A cultural regression has been occurring since 1968.
Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (5th ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Krashen, S., & McField, G. (2005). What works? Reviewing the latest evidence on bilingual education. Language Learner, 34, 7-10.
Menken, K. (2013). Restrictive language education policies and emergent bilingual youth: A perfect storm with imperfect outcomes. Theory Into Practice, 52, 160-168.
Petrzela, N. M. (2010). Before the Federal Bilingual Education Act: Legislation and lived experience in California. Peabody Journal of Education, 85(4), 406-424.
Schneider, S. (1976). Revolution, reaction or reform: The 1974 Bilingual Education Act. New York: Las Americas.
Thomas, W., & Collier, V. (2002). A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long term academic achievement: Final report: Project 1.1. Berkeley, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence (CREDE).