Letters To The Editor
I must add my comments to those already expressed in the current controversy over bilingual education. As a California school administrator, I have been called upon to help create bilingual programs in several schools.
Genuine bilingual programs are possible and can work well where there is the proper educational and political climate. Research on effective bilingual programs designed to teach immigrant groups a target language while maintaining their own languages, as well as my first-hand examination of successful programs, reveals several salient characteristics.
First, a significant portion of the school population has to be fluent in English. Fluent English must be the lingua franca of the playground and lunchroom. Immigrant youngsters must feel the need to speak English. Thus, in the ghetto schools that are overwhelmingly immigrant, traditional bilingual programs cannot and do not work, and we have to develop new solutions.
Second, bilingual programs are costly. They require extra dollars to provide additional materials, staff, and classroom space. Where bilingual programs are prospering, there is a strong commitment of local, state, and federal dollars. Any decline in state or federal dollars is usually devastating.
Third, successful bilingual programs have well-trained bilingual-education professionals who stay out of the political wars, are not selected on the basis of race, and have significant school-level and central-office support. Hiring for the bilingual program does not have, as its primary purpose, the employment of politically "correct" minorities.
Successful bilingual programs are rare because seldom does one find all three of these conditions in the same place at the same time. Furthermore, such programs are rarely highlighted or celebrated, because conservatives do not want to admit that bilingual education can work well and radicals do not want to admit that traditional bilingual programs cannot succeed in ghettos--given poorly trained staff members, politicization, and the lack of role models who speak English fluently. In many ghetto schools, one can survive for days without using any English!
Finally, we do not need "new" definitions of old ideas. Traditional bilingual methodology was developed in the late 40's and 50's and was restructured by the "anti-melting pot" theorists for the 60's and 70's. It now tends to be inappropriate or inadequate in the 80's. We need new solutions, untainted by bigotry and prejudice and designed to meet the needs of today's children.
Phil S. Crawford Assistant Superintendent Inyo County Office of Education Independence, Calif.
I would like to make several points in response to Robert Primack's letter attacking Stephen Arons's Commentary on the secular-humanism debate ("Arons 'Misunderstands' Role of Public Schools in Democratic State," Oct. 30, 1985).
First, the rights of the parents in regard to their own children are much more monopolistic than Mr. Primack seems to concede. The very heterogeneity of our society requires this parental role. We must be extremely careful when the state moves in to overturn parental decisions, regardless of the National Education Association's viewpoint.
Second, Mr. Primack states: "What the democratic state says, in effect, when it insists on compulsory public [emphasis mine] schooling is that the education of the future rulers of such a state shall not be monopolized by any segment of society--not by the state, not by the parent, and not by religious or other institutions."
Indeed, the democratic state does insist on compulsory education, but not compulsory public education. It does so because it recognizes the rights of the individual and wants heterogeneity to continue; it does not want monopolistic dictates by the state or some agent of the state. Any time one bureau, or one person who is head of a bureau, is able to dictate policy and the education of an entire nation, the natural result will be control over thinking.
Third, the strength of the American way of life is through individual ideas that can be freely expressed and freely taught. The ultimate responsibility for the continuation of our society must rest upon parents and citizens, not the government.
Fourth, Mr. Primack writes: "[I]f the democratic state believes that scientific knowledge is essential to its survival, the state teaches evolution in its biology classrooms and not creationism."
The democratic state cannot "believe" anything because it is not an individual, but a group with diversity. To suggest that the democratic state believes that scientific knowledge is "essential to its survival" is to imply that the majority of Americans believe this. It is also to claim that the minority view is not to be tolerated. I seriously doubt the majority of Americans believe that a belief in evolution is essential to their survival.
Also, Mr. Primack errs in suggesting that evolution is scientific knowledge rather than theory. Very few scientists would agree with him. Both the view of creation and that of evolution must be expressed if sound education is to occur.
Fifth, the very idea that, in Mr. Primack's words, "the democratic state permits [emphasis mine] its own teaching to be contradicted" is dictatorial in nature. Who is this state that "permits" such things?
Religious institutions and parents are not asking for a monopoly over education, only for a fair hearing on both sides of a currently unsettled issue.
Bob Baird Counselor Midway High School Denton, Kan.
Every reading of Frances C. Fowler's Commentary, "Why Reforms Go Awry," (Nov. 6, 1985), leaves me shaking my head with recognition and appreciation. It is a super piece!
Now, if only the reformers could understand what was said.
Charles M. Breinin Buffalo, N.Y