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Diane Ravitch Responds...

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It's been interesting to see how readers of this blog have expressed what they think of Diane Ravitch's definition for bilingual education that appears in her new book about education jargon. See my earlier post, "Plenty of 'Edspeak' to Go Around." Since some readers relayed what they presume is her philosophy concerning bilingual education or the education of Hispanic students, I asked Ms. Ravitch if she wanted to respond to comments. I also asked if she wanted to defend her definition or acknowledge that it could be improved.

Here's what she said:

"The definition of bilingual education in my book Edspeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon is neutral. It does not advocate nor oppose bilingual education. It states: 'School program that teaches English language learners all subjects in their native language while they are learning English. Advocates see bilingual education as a way to help students gain knowledge while becoming literate in two languages. Critics question such programs' value and effectiveness, contending that limited-English-proficient students' main priority should be to learn English--and learn in English.'

"I believe this is an accurate summary of the main goal of bilingual education as well as the views of advocates and critics. Many definitions in the book, like this one, refer to the views of advocates and critics. In each case, I attempt to summarize, fairly and accurately, their contrasting claims."

7 Comments

"Advocates see bilingual education as a way to help students gain knowledge while becoming literate in two languages" is inaccurate. Maybe "some" advocates believe this; however, the goal of transitional bilingual programs is to move students into mainstream classes (in English) of science, math, and social studies. The bilingual program ensures they do not have gaps in the academic knowledge required to be successful in content area courses when their academic English skills catch up.

Ravitch's response is unfortunately typical of those who spread misinformation about bilingual education.

Rather than address factual criticisms, she simply reiterates her position. She even implies that those of us who raised the criticisms (i.e., "advocates") actually agree with her definition, while ignoring everything we said. Whatever happened to honest intellectual debate?

I suspect that Ravitch declines to address the issues because doing so would reveal how little she knows about bilingual education.

"I suspect that Ravitch declines to address the issues because doing so would reveal how little she knows about bilingual education." BY JAMES CRAWFORD.

I have to laugh; there is no question that Mr. Crawford is an 'expert' in bilingual ed theory and advocacy.

If Mr. Crawford had even a cursory knowledge of Ms. Ravitch's articles and books he would know how much she knows about educaitonal policy including the checkered history of Orthodox Bilingual
Education. This is a policy issue and educational standards issue that Ms Ravitch has studied for more than thirty years. I think it fair to say that she is one of the most knowledgebale persons in the USA about the rise and fall of bilingual education;its official advocates and popular reaction against its excesses.

Typically in these programs as taught in Teacher Ed programs there is no balance. One studies the official theories (virtually propaganda) and dissenting views receive little or no mention. I think it was almost hilarious to hear Stephen Krashen speak about language learning and to be given his slight book FOREIGN LANGUAGE EDUCATION: the EASY WAY. Yet Krashen is one of the Guru's of Bilingual Ed. One of the most curious things about bilingual ed is that so many of its advocates are monolingual or if they are bilingual many are heritage speakers WITHOUT ANY TRAINING OR EDUCATION IN THAT LANGAUGE. The great weekness of NENLI (NON ENGLISH NATIVE LANGUAGE INSTRUCITON) that is to say 'phoney' bilingual educaiton is that it has always suffered from a enormous lack of qualified classroom teachers. There is nothing wrong with Dual Immersion schools as a voluntary option but bilingual ed does not work in practice and if Crawford were TRULY knowlegeable and informed he would know this. But alas, Mr. Crawford himself reveals how little he knows about bilingual educaiton (but he knows about sour grapes I think).

Yes many of us have been FORCED to attend lectures PAID FOR BY THE TAXPAYERS about Teacher Ed research and how great bilingual education is from the likes of Stephen Krashen.
Of course, Dr. Krashen is competent in English and knows the jargon of Bilingual Ed cold -he practically created it- but ironically he has virtually no competency in the teaching of Foreign langauges nor does he speak them.


James Crawford has made a career based upon NENLI (NON English Native Langauge Instruction) and phoney "Bilingual Education". See his book HOLD YOUR TONGUE and others. Essentially orthodox bilingual educaiton was for years (Krashen & Cummins) etc. etc. Both men were strong advocates of NON-ENGLSIH NATIVE LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION and 'late exit' bilingual programs extending on to high school. Until the major populist reforms achieved by concerned citizens and concerned classroom teachers NENLI (non-English Native Language instruction) and Spanish-only instruction in the Core sujbects (Math, Science, history) was growing in leaps and bounds. Ih the LAUSD there was a parallel program virtually Spanish-only for only 165 days a year (while other students attended 180). These programs had the lowest percentage of qualified teachers of any other similiar programs. The advocates of NENLI (Phoney Bilingual Educaiton) were entrenched at the state level and threatened school districts who tried to establish English immersion programs in lieu of bilingual programs which COULD NOT POSSIBLIY BE IMPLEMENTED DUE TO THE SHORTAGE OF QUALIFIED BILINGUAL TEACHERS (over 20,000 in 1997). Once again, if James Crawford were honest he would admit that many critics of bilingual education ARE KNOWLEDGABLE and balanced -more so than he I daresay- and that the story of bilingual education its triumphs and its failures includes them as well. The true meaning of what passes as 'bilingual education'is controlling the way the masses think and pushing them leftward to the politics of resentment, irredentism, race preferences and racial separatism. This is what Arthur M. Schlesinger called 'the disuniting of America." If we cannot break the stranglehold on bilingual education orthodoxy in Teacher Ed colleges we must pressure all schools for disclosure ,accountibility and for genuine standards.


As I said bbefore, I think Ravitch's definition is very clear and fair and I know from long years experience in bilingual education. I am a bilingual teacher and I am certified and highly qualified to teach in several subject areas. I am an experienced translator who has professional translated legal documents, articles and literary material to and from English and other llanguages.

In fact I am qualified to teach those subject areas not only in English but in other langauges and I have done so. But I believe that the primary language for instruction in American schools should be English and that Core Classes shouuld be taken in the English medium as much as possible and that means using English language texts and English language tests.

This does not mean allowing students to sink or swim.
SDAIE means specially designed instruction for English learners in the subject areas. ELD (English learners) get smaller class sizes, special tutoring, before, after and during school, and special budgets for materials and technology such as SMART BOARDS and computers. I have taught THOUSANDS of ELD students and have personal interviewed HUNDREDS of successful students in depth and the general consensus is that English immersion, contiunal enrollment in school and person effort is the way to learn English. The point is good students know that you HAVE to get out of bilingual classes as soon as possible.

The best way to learn Spanish or any other foreign language is to read, write, speak and listen in that language as much as possible. The best way to learn English is to be taught in English and to read, write and listen to English as much as possible. My student know I love the Spanish tongue -I taught AP Spanish literature for years- and many other languages too. They know I am a strong supporter of authentic bilingualism. I also believe that where feasible Spanish-for native sspeaker classes should be offered as an elective IN THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE DEPARTMENT as well as other languages as the local community schools desire. I am not English-only -I never have been at any time in my life!- but I believe that English comptency is a sina qua non for academic excellence in modern day America. One of the proven ways to do this is by English immersion and teaching in the English medium.

We owe it to the kids -all the kids- and to America to see that all kids get aaccess to higher level classes in high sschool and college in the subject areas. The only way to do that is to teach them in English as much as possible.


I am not a researcher or policy maker. I am an ESOL teacher and ESOL teacher trainer with decades of experience in two States. I have NEVER seen the kind of immersion program Mr. Munro describes implemented anywhere. Mr. Munro describes: "SDAIE means specially designed instruction for English learners in the subject areas. ELD (English learners) get smaller class sizes, special tutoring, before, after and during school, and special budgets for materials and technology such as SMART BOARDS and computers. I have taught THOUSANDS of ELD students and have personal interviewed HUNDREDS of successful students in depth and the general consensus is that English immersion, contiunal enrollment in school and person effort is the way to learn English. The point is good students know that you HAVE to get out of bilingual classes as soon as possible."

Specially designed classes for ELLs, low numbers, special tutoring, special budgets! Never happened in my experience and not happening now. My students have always told me that properly trained teachers have made the difference for them. Too bad, quality teachers have been excluded from the list of what makes ELLs successful.

I believe that ideologies and ideological attacks need to get out of the school yard. ELLs are not making the academic progress they should be making on a national level. The focus should be on which model properly implemented model best serves the needs of the students in the communities where they live and not attacks on Krashen, Cummins, or Crawford. That kind of discourse does not serve schools or students in any way, shape, or form.

I have never heard of Ms. Ravitch before; however, her definition is inaccurate. If it's important that a dictionary or encyclopedia provides objective descriptions, then clearly this is not the case in the definition of bilingual education. To assert that the goal is to maintain literacy in two languages is inaccurate and fails to describe dual language (or two-way immersion) and transitional bilingual models.

Properly implemented immersion AND properly implemented bilingual programs have places at the table when deciding what is best for students to ensure academic growth and language development.

It's interesting that Mr. Munro brings up Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., another celebrity academic who has attacked bilingual education, despite knowing virtually nothing about it.

For those who have forgotten Schlesinger's unfortunate book, The Disuniting of America (Whittle Direct Books, 1991), here's what he had to say on the subject:

"Indications are that bilingual education retards rather than expedites the movement of Hispanic children into the English-speaking world. ... Bilingualism shuts doors. It nourishes self-ghettoization, and ghettoization nourishes racial antagonism. ... A common language is a necessary bond of national cohesion in a nation so heterogeneous as America."

Schlesinger's concerns, like Munro's, are fundamentally political rather than pedagogical. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say: these critics view bilingual education through a political lens that distorts their pedagogical perspective. Ideological preconceptions overshadow empirical findings about what works in the classroom. They see educational research as "propaganda" and researchers with whom they disagree as villains. They regard bilingual educators not as hard-working professionals trying to serve kids but as "the bilingual empire" (Schlesinger's term).

After encountering plenty of these English-only crusaders over the years, I've concluded that trying to engage them in evidence-based (much less civil) dialogue is a waste of time.

One more thing ...

I can't let Munro's casual slander of Stephen Krashen pass without correction. Erroneous claims on the Internet tend to take on a poisonous life of their own.

Krashen is far from monolingual. He is fluent in German, Yiddish, and French. He speaks basic Spanish and is currently studying Mandarin. (I hope I haven't left out any of his languages.) What's more, I've witnessed him crack up Ethiopian hotel workers by telling jokes in Amharic, a feat that requires a rather sophisticated command of the language.

Mr. Munro's claims about Krashen are just like his claims about bilingual education: uninformed.

Notice the anonyomous slander, obviously by a mandarin of orthodox bilingual education.

Craford says:

Schlesinger's concerns, like Munro's, are fundamentally political rather than pedagogical. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say: these critics view bilingual education through a political lens that distorts their pedagogical perspective. Ideological preconceptions overshadow empirical findings about what works in the classroom. They see educational research as "propaganda" and researchers with whom they disagree as villains. They regard bilingual educators not as hard-working professionals trying to serve kids but as "the bilingual empire" (Schlesinger's term).

I ask you, who is a more distinguished intellectual and scholar Arthur Schlesinger or James Crawford? I ask you who was more politically NEUTRAL
Schlessinger or Crawford? As I remember Schlessinger was a liberal Democrat with impeccalble credentials. He wrote merely as a sage not as a political pundit.

I am not afraid to tell the truth as I see it. I know a lot about the THEORY and PRACTICE of Bilingual Education.

I have been a language teacher and learner all of my adult life. I have spoken Spanish, for example for more than 45 years. I have not only learned to read and write in several languages but I have taught high level classes in three languages.

(but I have met him personally and he could not respond to our conversations in Spanish; he Krashen himself had SOME knowledge of Yiddish his heritage language –which is similar to German but Krashen did not claim to have anything but a smattering of knowledge of German language or literature or Chinese. I myself know a few Chinese and Punjabi and Hindi expressions –I probably know a smattering of 30 languages but I only claim to be fluent at a university level in two or at most three languages). It is not a calumny to say Prof Krashen knows a lot about linguistic theory but very surprisingly little about the classical literatures and languages of German, Spanish, French, Latin, Greek and Italian. But that sort of narrow learning is typical of American universities.

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