Minority Education


By the late 19th century, educational debates were still echoing on “who was to be educated?” and “how this education was to be carried out?” Such philosophers as John Dewey and (closer to us) Jean Piaget understood that “all knowledge has a special origin and the interests of the child are the primary source of learning” (Spring 1989). The same author said that after the Civil War black leaders, particularly W.E. Dubois and Booker T. Washington debated not the importance of schooling but the kind of education for blacks. The latter, considered by many blacks as a traitor, would acquiesce with the 1895 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that said under segregation schools can be separated and remained equal. According to Perkinson (1991), Washington addressed publicly in 1895,
“….The Negro did not want social equality, that he did not need social equality with the whites. Nor did he want or need political or civil equality … but cooperation with their white friends. Negro education should be devoted to the practical education of earning a living.” P.48

But Dubois vehemently rejected that position and argued for equal rights. Meanwhile, diverse segments of society had been restless protecting their interests after the inaction of Plessy v. Ferguson. The US Supreme Court solved many cases in favor of minorities such as Peirce v. Society of sisters (1922, unconstitutionality of forcing public schooling only) or Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1940, unconstitutionality of forcing Jehovah Witness to salute the flag). None of them delivered a blow to the racist establishment more significant than Brown v. Board of Education of (1954), which stipulated that separate education was inherently unequal. That decision invigorated the position of such minority leaders as Dr. Martin L. King who had long said that the reality of equality will require extensive adjustments in the way of life of the white majority, an adjustment many are unwilling to make”, ( Smith & Chunn, 1989). The Brown decision opened the valve for a flurry of other specific legislations to right the educational wrongs done to minorities. For, Perkinson (1991) stated that black parents realized that their children were failing in schools not because they were culturally deprived but because the schools were incompetent to teach black students who, indeed, had a culture, a different culture.

I remain convinced that, on the part of many folks, it was not a matter of how to educate our culturally different children, but a deliberate case of not willing to do so. Unisma If we take, for example, Shor and Freire (1987), “It is not education which shapes society, but on the contrary, it is society that shapes education according to the interests of those who have power” p.35; and Perkinson (1991) “By 1965 the schools had polarized American society into self-satisfied whites and victimized blacks, into despondent city dwellers and indifferent suburb amenities by identifying and creating winners and losers” p.220, we shall see that these points of view (Freire/Shor’s and Perkinson’s) are in direct contradiction while both being sensitive and in the interests of the unfortunate, that include the children of the immigrants.

Bilingual Education

History & Rationale
. As children of the lower class were failing in school and in life, bilingual education (originally) was not meant to rescue them. On the contrary, it was designed to catch up with the Soviets after their launching of the Sputnik, the first manned satellite (Cazabon, 1993). Through the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), the United States Government hoped to be competitive scientifically and technologically while being sophisticated in languages and cultures. As waves of immigrants kept crashing onto our shores, the Federal government passed a series of legislations and decisions to deal with the problem among which the 1965 Elementary & Secondary Education Act (to attack poverty), the 1967 Bilingual Education, the 1974 Lau vs. Nichols (special aid to non-English speaking pupils) and the 1980 Department of Education regulation (mandated Transitional Bilingual Education nationwide for limited English proficient students). Despite all those efforts, Lambert held that there were two faces of Bilingualism; one for language minorities and the other for the mainstream Americans (Cazabon, 1993). To such conservative politicians as former Senator Hayakawa, Bilingual Education would hinder the English development of immigrants (Minami & Kennedy, 1991). To those critics, Jim Cummings replied that students who experienced a preschool program in which: a) their cultural identity was reinforced, b) their was active collaboration with parents; and c) meaningful use of language was integrated into every aspect of daily activities; these pupils were developing high level of conceptual and linguistic skills in both language. Supportively, Krashen (1983) indicated that all languages are acquired the same way through four development stages, namely silent period or comprehension, early production, speech emergence, and intermediate fluency. Given time, a comprehensible input, and a lower affective filter (anxiety-free) the young immigrant will excel.

The situation of bilingual education let to believe that the authorities either want to assimilate every child into the main culture or to create bad cases of bilingual programs for the minorities where they would be proficient in neither language. In reply Skutnabb-Kangas (1986) had put forward the Declaration of Linguistic Human Rights (the rights to identify with, to learn, and to choose when to use one’s mother tongue), especially in relation to small children, where it “is close to criminal, real psychological torture to use monolingual teachers who do not understand what the child has to say in her mother tongue” (Skutnabb-Kangas & Cummins, 1986) p.28. Nonetheless, they registered many cases of positive as well as negative bilingual programs. The additive (positive) Bilingualism has been mostly experienced abroad, whereas most of the subtractive ones have been found in the United States.

Models of Bilingual Programs.
When Lau vs. Nichols was settled, it left the establishment too much leeway even though it cited the school districts for violations of the fourteenth Amendment and the Title VI of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. According to Lyons (1990), the law did not seek any specific remedy, but only that the Board of Education apply its expertise to the problems and rectify the situation. Therefore, in its implementation worldwide, Bilingualism had two faces depending on whom it was called to serve. It could be implemented and verified as the best form of education (for the elite, the middle/upper class) or the worst case of educational formation (for the minorities, the working/lower class).