What counterarguments does Rodriguez address in "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood?"

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In his essay “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood,” Richard Rodriguez addresses major counterarguments to the push for bilingual education.

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A major counterargument Rodriguez addresses is the need for public and private identities in American culture. While his detractors lambaste his ideas, Rodriguez argues that everyone has a right to protect the sacredness of his/her private identity. In Hispanics, private identity is encapsulated in language (Spanish) and by extension, the diction that is unique to that culture alone.

Rodriguez maintains that it is wrong to rob Hispanics of their private identities, which inspire camaraderie and social cohesion in their communities. He presents an example from his life. Rodriguez remembers feeling uneasy when three nuns from his school pressured his parents to do more about his lack of fluency in English. Rodriguez felt that, by giving up their own special language (Spanish) at home, they were giving up the language of closeness.

In an instant they agreed to give up the language (the sounds) which had revealed and accentuated our family's closeness.

Rodriguez says that his parents' decision to give up Spanish at home had a devastating impact on family cohesion. He maintains that he suddenly felt less motivation to rush home after school. The home was no longer a magical place where one could speak a special language among cherished comrades.

Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at home among those with whom I felt intimate . . . We were no longer so close, no longer bound tightly together by the knowledge of our separateness from los gringos.

According to Rodriguez, his new fluency in English led to fewer interactions between him and his parents. His siblings had a similar experience. Rodriguez asserts that his greatest regret centered on how the change affected his father. Previously effusive and charismatic in his native Spanish, Rodriguez's father now retreated into near silence. For his part, Rodriguez believes that change was forced upon his parents, without regard for their personal happiness. Thus, Rodriguez argues that both public and private identities are as necessary to personal fulfillment as they are to social cohesion.

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In the second half of his essay, Rodriguez begins with a refutation of the belief that students who start school unable to understand English "miss a great deal by not being taught in their family’s language."

Rodriguez argues that though it took him some time to realize it, he learned that he had both the "right" and the "obligation" to learn the public language of English. He avers that if he had received bilingual instruction at school it would have "delayed" or "postponed" his eventual facility in English, which he sees as vital to success in America. Rodriguez argues that students who receive bilingual education are in fact being held back from full assimilation, which he sees as a significant handicap to success.

Near the end of the essay Rodriguez becomes very direct in asserting that "bilingualists simplistically scorn the value and necessity of assimilation." He counters the argument that "children lose a degree of 'individuality' by becoming assimilated into public society" with his refutation: "full individuality is achieved, paradoxically, by those who are able to consider themselves members of the crowd." In other words, he feels that he must first shed his "alien" status to become a fully individualized person in American society.

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Richard Rodriguez offers one main counterargument in his essay "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood." Given that Rodriguez had major misconceptions regarding the use of a child's family language in the schools (if not English), he decided that using English would be the only way to succeed in life--in America. Rodriguez, early into his education in America, decided that upon given the right to use his family language (Spanish), "it is not possible for a child, any child, ever to use his family's language in school."

Therefore, his counterargument to educators in America, and the supporters of bilingual languages, is that they (educators and supporters) failed to recognize the fact that these "socially disadvantaged children" regarded "Spanish as a private language." Rodriguez, likewise, regarded Spanish as a "ghetto language" which "deepened and strengthened" his feelings of pride regarding his Mexican heritage. He did not feel as if his family's language belonged in his American school.

Instead of agreeing with the educators and bilingual supporters, Rodriguez found that his family's language should stay a part of the family and not a part of his education. By using his family's language in school, he would be alienating his tradition, culture and family. Therefore, his refusal to speak his family's language went against those in the American education system based upon their suggestions. Rodriguez did not see the inclusion of his language as being important to his learning. Their inclusion of bilingual education could, simply, only be used to "misunderstand the public uses of schooling and to trivialize the nature of intimate life."

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What major counterarguments does Richard Rodriguez address in his essay "Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood"?

In his essay “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood,” Richard Rodriguez questions the wisdom of the push for bilingual education.  Among the counter-arguments he considers are the following:

  • He initially defines bilingual education, in very neutral terms, as

a program that seeks to permit non-English-speaking children, many from lower-class homes, to use their family language as the language of school.

  • By implication, he suggests the argument that it is not possible to grow up among whites and still retain one’s Hispanic cultural identity.
  • By implication, he concedes the argument that members of minority groups often do face real discrimination from members of majority populations.
  • He concedes that it is possible for members of minority groups to feel alienated when participating in the culture of the “majority” group.
  • He implicitly concedes that not only minority children but even minority adults can feel intimidated when participating in the culture of the majority.
  • He explicitly concedes that

Supporters of bilingual education today imply that students like me miss a great deal by not being taught in their family’s language.

  • He implicitly concedes that Spanish-speaking students often feel afraid in English-based classrooms.
  • He concedes that when Spanish-speaking students are forced to speak English at school, they often lose their earlier senses of their homes as special places.
  • He concedes that if Spanish-speaking children learn to speak English, the entire family is affected in ways that lead to greater integration of the whole family with the culture of the majority.
  • He paraphrases bilingual educators who believe that Spanish-speaking children lose a certain amount of their individuality if they are forced to speak English.
  • He paraphrases bilingual educators as believing that minority students should be exposed to their cultural differences from majority culture.
  • He paraphrases bilingual educators who claim to want to ensure that children are well-educated.

In short, Rodriguez concedes, alludes to, and/or paraphrases the arguments of his opponents while still maintaining and arguing for his own contrary positions.

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