I’m Glad Someone Asked the Question

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 10, 2008 1 min read
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U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, a Republican from Delaware, asked a question at a congressional hearing on Indian Education yesterday that I was dying to ask: Is English as a second language an issue in education of American Indian students today?

Stanley R. Holder, the chief of the division of performance and accountability for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education, responded with a plug for the maintenance and revitalization of indigenous languages. (See’s selection of articles about language revitalization). He explained what he’s learned through the implementation of the federal Reading First program in BIE schools:

The tribal students who speak the tribal language as a first language have an easier time learning the English skills they need.

But what is often the case, he said, is that Native American students speak “a third language in the tribal or ethnic community” that creates “interference” for them to acquire English. Mr. Holder concluded it’s beneficial to establish the “pure tribal dialect” and build on that.

I just thought I should put this on the record that a high-level official for the BIE schools, which serve 48,000 American Indian students, favors the support of indigenous languages in schools.

My article for Education Week about the hearing, “Tribes Voice Concern Over Lack of Leeway on NCLB,” doesn’t get into language issues. I’d love to find a way to visit Indian County this year to write about language and school, as I did more than a year ago.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.