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Educators Stress Economic, Social Value of a Bilingual America

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San Francisco--Americans should be concerned about making all children bilingual, not just those from language-minority homes, argued speakers at this month's annual conference here of the National Association for Bilingual Education.

And rather than viewing bilingual education as another "poverty" or "remedial" program, the public should recognize its economic and social value to the middle class, the speakers said.

"The world at large does not speak English," said Joshua Fishman, a professor of language at Yeshiva University in New York. "And we are penalized, our industry is penalized, our commerce is penalized, and our government is penalized because we are not successfully preparing American citizens to interact with the rest of the world in the major languages which the rest of the world speaks."

"The only way you learn a language is by having to use that lan-guage for serious learning and serious communication purposes," he added. "And that is the approach of bilingual education."

By ignoring that approach, said Mr. Fishman, Americans "are missing the boat."

'Not a Deficit'

"One of the things we have to do is convince this nation that having another language, that having another culture, that having a diverse culture, is not a deficit," said Jesse M. Soriano, director of the U.S. Education Department's office for bilingual education and minority languages affairs.

Noted Sarah E. Melendez, president of nabe: "There is an inconsistency in talking about developing foreign-language proficiency in English-speaking students and requiring students who come to us with those very languages to forget them. They do not need to forget them to learn English and become productive, patriotic, and loyal citizens."

Speakers were particularly criti-cal of U.S. English, the national organization that has been lobbying for federal and state constitutional amendments to make English the country's official language.

U.S. English

"I think it is misguided, fanatic patriotism for people to think that to be a real American you must have loyalty only to English," said Ms. Melendez, associate director of the office of minority concerns of the American Council on Education and the former director of bilingual-education programs at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. She suggested that people who support the amendments, which would curtail the availability of bilingual education, fail to understand that the primary objective of such education is to teach students English.

Budget Cuts

Ms. Melendez also criticized the Reagan Administration's current budget proposals for bilingual education. The President's fiscal 1986 budget would freeze funds for bilingual education at the fiscal 1985 level of $139 million. In addition, the President has proposed decreasing funding for teacher training by $10 million and prohibiting any funds from being used for materials development, family English-literacy programs, and developmental bilingual education.

The budget also proposes removing a requirement that a certain proportion of federal funds be spent on transitional-bilingual-education programs and only a limited amount of funds on alternative instructional programs.

"I think they are making educational policy decisions for budgetary reasons," said Ms. Melendez.

She noted that despite federal programs and a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring schools to make special services available to children with limited proficiency in English, fewer than 40 percent of the students who have been classified as needing bilingual education are receiving it.

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