In the essay "Aria" from his book Hunger of Memory, how does Richard Rodriguez refute arguments favoring bilingual education?

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Richard Rodriguez states right out in his essay that he is against bilingual education, “I hear them and am forced to say no: It is not possible for a child—any child—ever to use his family’s language in school.” While his opinion seems controversial, he moves through the rest of the essay to lay out for the reader the specific reasons he doesn’t think bilingual education will work.

If we look at the essay we can see that his argument comes from his lived experience as a child. Navigating the complex social systems that are established by language, race, and social class leads the author to explain that he doesn’t think that any students who would be a “bilingual learners” would benefit from such a program because they already participate in their discourse. He explains that “What they seem not to recognize is that, as a socially disadvantaged child, I considered Spanish to be a private language” (Rodriguez). He goes into depth about the fact that it isn’t what is “allowed” or “taught” that is going to make the most significant difference, but the social perceptions of those students that bilingual education advocates seek to influence.

He makes the further point that along with not feeling like the public language (English) belongs to them, students who are the target of bilingual education need to speak English a lot to master its use. Until they internalize the language it will always be foreign to them—something Rodriguez thinks will hold students back. He makes the claim that until someone identifies themselves with the primary culture (“gringo” or American in this case), and speaks the language of that culture, they will not go to the trouble of demanding the rights and privileges that go along with being a citizen or member of the primary culture. He explains that bilingual advocates are condemning young bilingual children never to assimilate or gain that type or perspective because they are allowed to keep Spanish as both their public and private language, something that will hamper their social growth.

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In the essay titled “Aria” from his book Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez argues against bilingual education in a number of ways, including the following:

  • He asserts that bilingual education delays and postpones the opportunity for students to use the public language of society. It thus retards their social development and delays their chances of achieving social acceptance and success.
  • He claims that bilingual education delays the opportunity for students to learn that they have a public (as well as a private and familial) identity.
  • He argues that students need to learn how to speak a “public language.”
  • He contends that bilingual education delays a growth in confidence in the speaking of the public language – confidence that is especially necessary to developing young people.
  • He claims that learning the official, public language of one’s society helps build one’s confidence in general by giving one a public identity and allowing a young person to communicate with anyone.
  • He asserts that learning the public language allows students to focus on the full meanings of others’ words and utterances rather than simply on the unfamiliar sounds they make.
  • He claims that learning to speak the public language helps to promote a sense of full participatory citizenship:

At last, seven years old, I came to believe what had been technically true since birth: I was an American citizen.

  • He argues that as children learn to speak the public language of a society, even their parents benefit, since they feel a closer connection to the broader society of which they are technically already a part.



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