Traditionally, the immigrant story has hinged on learning English and becoming a full-fledged American. Culture, customs, and foods from the old country are retained and enrich the new country, but the point has always been to become an American.
The Obama administration announced a policy that will retard, if not entirely derail, that process and has the potential to balkanize a nation that President Obama's rhetoric has already divided more than at any time in our history. Needless to say, the wolf wears sheep's clothing, masquerading as solicitude for kids who come to the country now knowing English.
The policy has the harmless-seeming title "Supporting Dual Learners in Early Learning Settings." Here is the factsheet from the White House and here is the Heritage Foundation's Mike Gonalez's summary of it:
The Obama Administration last week unveiled new federal policy recommendations that instruct states to support and encourage children to retain separate languages and cultural attachments. The policy was included in a joint policy statement by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS). The Administration stresses that these are mere recommendations that “do not confer any legal obligations,” but notes that failure to implement them may result in the loss of federal dollars.
The statements observe that there exists a “stubborn achievement gap” between dual-language learners (DLLs) and their monolingual counterparts. The former are “behind their peers” in kindergarten, and experience “higher high school and college drop-out rates.” However, the Administration cites “a growing body of research,” which it says indicates that multilingualism confers all sorts of “cognitive and social advantages.” The reason for the mismatch between the promised potential in the cited studies and the observed facts on the ground is due to “the quality of experience [the DLL children] are currently receiving,” it says. “Not recognizing children’s cultures and languages as assets may also play a role in the achievement gap” because of the “low social prestige of minority languages,” say the statements.
The Administration maintains that the solution is to preserve these differences and recommends that early childhood programs nurture the “cultural and linguistic assets of this population of children.” It advises that states follow this path by such approaches as creating curricula and educational early childhood systems that “support children’s home language development” as well as English, employing credentialed bilingual staff, and communicating with the family in their primary language.
Nothing is more important for kids whose families don't speak English than learning English in a supportive and kindly environment. The Obama plan leads not to this but to a balkanization of our country.
I fear that the new Obama policy will have dire results for the children and for a country that, in the past, has absorbed people because they wanted to be fully American. An underlying idea of the new policy is that our culture of liberty and justice just isn't as worthy as was assumed in previous generations. Thus working hard to become part of it is not as important as it once was.
And there is this from the White House factsheet:
Too Small to Fail, in partnership with the Early Learning Coalition of Miami- Dade and Monroe County and Univision will launch a new citywide “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” public awareness campaign in Miami, with an emphasis on reaching families of young DLLs. The campaign promotes early brain and language development by encouraging parents to engage in meaningful activities with their young children starting at birth — like counting toes while giving a bath or singing a song while changing a diaper.
Great–now the government is telling parents how to play with their children! I'd love to see my ancestors who went out on the Kentucky frontier docilely reacting to this kind of missive from the federal government (such as it was then)! Sing a song while you change the diaper–mothers really need the Obama administration to tell them this? Also, talking is not necessarily teaching. The best thing for a child who doesn't speak English is a warm atmosphere in which she is nevertheless encourages to learn English. Talking may not be teaching, but diagramming sentences (at the right age) and presenting the great history of this country are components of teaching. This is an extremely destructive policy, posing as concern for children.
In releasing the policy the White House noted that the announcements "mark progress on the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which aims to ensure that all young people, including children of color, can reach their full potential." It ensures just the opposite and furthermore is a slap in the face at our nation, which has absorbed four hundred years of newcomers without a directive of this sort.
The new White House policy should be called the Every (Immigrant) Child Left Behind policy.
PS. Is Unavision, which has a vested commerical interest in enlarging the number Spanish-speaking audience members, the best organization to help in what should be an effort to make kids into English-speaking citizens?