Chapter 4: A Forgotten Legacy
By James Crawford
Bilingualism in Colonial America
No Official Language
19th Century Bilingual Schooling
Controlling Conquered Peoples
Meyer v. Nebraska
‘Civilizing’ the Indian
Spanish Language Rights
‘Cultural Deprivation’ Era
Rebirth of Bilingual Education
Bilingual education figures nowhere in the immigrant myth: the bootstraps rise to success, the fight for social acceptance, the sink-or-swim imperative of learning English. For many Americans today, the idea of teaching children in other languages is an affront to sacred traditions. Yesterday’s immigrants allegedly prospered without special programs; glad to blend into the Melting Pot, they struggled to master the language of their adopted homeland. By operating in English only, public schools weaned students from other tongues and opened a new world of opportunities.
Ancestral legends die hard. While some early newcomers were quick to assimilate and advance themselves, “melting” was more often a process of hardships that lasted for several generations. The immigrants’ children were typically the first to achieve fluency in English, their grandchildren the first to finish high school, and their great-grandchildren the first to grow up in the middle class. Moreover, language minorities who were also racial minorities never had the option of joining the mainstream, whether they learned English or not, before the civil-rights reforms of the 1960s. Melting Pot mythology obscures the diversity of cultures that have flourished in North America since the colonial period, and the aggressive efforts to preserve them, among both immigrants and indigenous minorities. In this history bilingual education has played a central, if overlooked, role.
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