What is bilingual education? Why is it so controversial?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bilingual education is instruction in schools in more than one language. The primary instance in which the term is presently used involves the use of Spanish in American public schools for Spanish speaking students who have not sufficiently mastered English to perform well under instruction in that latter language. The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 provides federal funds for such instruction in public schools, particularly in areas with large non-English speaking minorities. According to one expert, the Act demonstrates:

a shift from the notion that students should be afforded equal educational opportunity to the idea that educational policy should work to equalize academic outcomes, even if such equity demanded providing different learning environment.

The primary reason it has become so controversial is that many believe that those who live in the U.S. should be completely "Americanized," meaning that instruction should be only in English. Those opposed to bi-lingual education argue that until students master English, they cannot truly be "American." They quite often cite "English Only" as part of their political mantra. It is hard to dismiss suggestions of xenophobia on the part of the "English only" movement, although most would heatedly deny any such bias; nonetheless, they are quite vocal in their opposition to instruction in any language other than English. 

It should also be noted that opposition to bi-lingual education is almost uniformly comprised of Republicans; perhaps because the Bi-Lingual Education Act was passed by a Democratic administration.