Leaving “No Child Left Behind” Behind

Posted on October 2, 2011

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Great picture lifted from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF) on Facebook and http://giftedhomeschoolers.org

As hard pressed I am to give praise to a public school initiative, this article on Two-way Immersion has been inspiring. Many public schools have adapted this program to get around a ban on bilingual instruction in classrooms.
The ban prevents non-native English-speaking students from receiving instruction in their own language.
This ban, while purporting to encourage immigrants to conform to English proficiency, often puts a strain on the student’s performance. Those students who would otherwise benefit from transitional instruction involving first language mentoring or individual attention are thrown into the deep end. While this system is very much in keeping with an American  “do or die” ideology, it leads to lower overall performance in schools with high immigrant populations. The oddly named “No Child Left Behind” program would then treat this school accordingly for such slovenliness. This causes resentment towards these non-English speakers sending the school and community unnecessarily into a downward spiral.
Language skills can be a significant obstacle to progress.
This new approach, which involves encouraging fluency in both languages (English and other language), takes the language disadvantage and turns it into an overwhelming advantage. Classrooms with a large population of Spanish speakers, for example, learn in English for a week while being assisted by English native speaking students. The next week, the course continues as normal but in Spanish. Now the English speakers are being assisted by the Spanish speakers. This way, content knowledge of courses like geography, history and mathematics are cultivated in both languages. Students can operate in these disciplines in EITHER language.
The result satisfies those who are concerned with maintaining standards of English fluency. English learners, who would otherwise be falling behind, benefit threefold. They integrate more effectively, they maintain educated fluency in their mother language, and they cultivate bilingualism as empowerment rather than a burden. Being a Spanish speaker becomes a valuable asset rather than obstacle to success.
This program is applicable to any languages and has seen a great deal of success. It would be great to see such a program in Quebec where bilingualism is similarly banned. While Canada prides itself on multiculturalism, it has had little success reconciling the ongoing problems of maintaining dual languages. In Quebec, such dual language programs exist only in English language schools. These schools are restricted only to a minority of Quebec residents who can prove their Anglophone provenience.
The discriminatory privilege given to the Anglophone minority allows them to cultivate dual language proficiencies while the vast majority of Quebecers are given relatively little English instruction. Strangely, this decree is enforced not by the ruling Anglophone minority, but rather by radical separatist groups who resent the encroachment of English into their culture.
This system of dual-language instruction would similarly satisfy Quebec’s need to maintain their French  linguistic identity, while developing crucially important  English skills. Not to mention, the overall nature of such instruction cultivates systems of cooperation and balance of power in the classroom: leveling the playing field not to the lowest common denominator, but to a higher level.
For more on cultivating dual language instruction, bilingualism and English language instruction check out:

http://tristanverboven.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/language-problems-cultural-opportunities

http://patrickcox.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/does-banning-bilingual-education-change-anything/

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