Bilingual Education

August 19, 1977

Report Outline
Renaissance in Bilingual Teaching
Melting Pot vs. Cultural Pluralism
Evaluations, Assessments and Needs
Special Focus

Renaissance in Bilingual Teaching

Recognition of Language Minorities in School

Each year thousands of children enter U.S. schools with little or no understanding of the English language. Some of these children are recent immigrants to the United States. Others have foreign-born parents or come from homes where English is spoken with a heavy accent. In the past these children were thrust into school with little or no consideration given to their ethnic backgrounds or language difficulties. It was hoped that they would learn English quickly and move into the mainstream of American life. But this “melting pot” approach put the non-English-speaking child at a severe disadvantage. No matter how quickly he or she learned English, it was always a struggle to catch up to the other children.

To help meet the special educational needs of language-minority children, Congress in 1968 enacted the Bilingual Education Act. The theory underlining this legislation held that children could be guided from the known to the unknown. In the case of non-English-speaking children, this guidance involved regular classroom instruction in their dominant language while at the same time helping them gain fluency in English. This approach allowed the students to progress in subject areas—math, science, social studies, etc.—without having to wait until they gained proficiency in English.

Six years after the 1968 law was enacted, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the special needs of language-minority children. In a unanimous decision in 1974 the court ruled that public schools were required by federal law to take “positive action” to help children who do not speak English. “There is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum,” wrote Justice William O. Douglas. “Students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Bilingual Education and ESL
Dec. 11, 2009  Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion
Nov. 17, 2000  Future of Language
Jan. 19, 1996  Debate Over Bilingualism
Aug. 13, 1993  Bilingual Education
Mar. 11, 1988  Bilingual Education: Does It Work?
Sep. 19, 1980  Foreign Languages: Tongue-Tied Americans
Aug. 19, 1977  Bilingual Education
Sep. 24, 1958  Foreign Language Study
Bilingual and Multicultural Education