Kiet Tran, 15, came to the United States in April 2002 when his Vietnamese mother married John Gardner, an American man from Madison, Wisconsin. Kiet did not know English and Madison school officials placed him in a bilingual education class – for Spanish speakers.
Of course, Kiet does not understand Spanish, but for three hours each day he was forced into classes where the instruction was almost entirely in Spanish. Mr. Gardner pleaded with the Madison school system to take his son out of the bilingual classes but to no avail. Kiet’s education was harmed as he was not learning English or any of his other subjects taught in Spanish. Mr. Gardner said his son began to suffer emotional problems due to his frustration at school. Unable to get any cooperation from the Madison public school establishment, the family had to move out of the district.
This is just one of the many horror stories produced by bilingual education. We are told that it is merely a way to help immigrant students on their way to English proficiency. In reality, it means teaching children primarily in their native tongues -- or, apparently, any language but English . This has predictable consequences. A 2002 Lexington Institute study revealed that 83 percent of New York City students who entered bilingual programs in ninth grade were not proficient enough in English to test out of the program after four years. It also showed that even after nine years of bilingual education, more than 16 percent of city students had failed to become fluent enough in English to enter mainstream classes.
In addition to being ineffective, bilingual education is expensive. Taxpayers hand over $12 billion a year to support a system that placates ethnic lobbyists and the teacher’s unions, but leaves immigrant students without the English skills they need to succeed in this country. People who do not know English are left unprepared for college and tend to wind up in low wage, physically demanding jobs with little upward mobility. Ironically, it is the proponents of English immersion who are often labeled “anti-immigrant.”
The good news is that Kiet Tran recently completed a four week “English for College” program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The program uses an English immersion method to help immigrant students learn the language and prepare them for college-level courses. Kiet won the award for “most improved English” and now looks forward to starting school in September.
Still, Mr. Gardner worries about other immigrant students. “My son has an English speaking father who understands our system of government and is not afraid to speak out,” he said. “Many immigrant students do not have such an advantage and are often at the mercy of the education establishment.” With that in mind, Mr. Gardner is filing a lawsuit against the Madison school system on the grounds that his son’s civil rights were violated and for non-compliance with the Educational Opportunity Act of 1974.
Mr. Gardner has promised his state and federal representatives that he is going to make their stands on bilingual education an issue in the next election. He is also working hard to educate parents on the realities of bilingual education. “Most people assume that all students are given an equal chance to learn English. I was amazed to find out that this is not true. In Kiet’s class, students wrote their answers in Spanish, used Spanish textbooks and conversed with the teachers and tutors in Spanish. Non-Spanish speakers were shut out of the learning process.”Mauro E. Mujica is Chairman and CEO of U.S. ENGLISH Inc., the nation’s oldest and largest citizens’ action group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English language (www.us-english.org). Started by the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, the group has 1.7 million members.