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English-Language Classes Unfair?

| 2 Comments

An interesting back-and-forth at the Daily Herald in Carpentersville, Ill., questions the fairness of English language classes in that suburban Chicago city. The Nov. 30 article highlights Sharon Fetting's suggestion that native English-speaking children should receive foreign language instruction, just like English-language learners. At a November school board meeting, Fetting proposed that English-speaking students should receive Spanish-language instruction.

The Daily Herald columnist, Jameel Naqvi, writes:

I also take issue with what seems to be Fetting's suggestion: that is, that the district has an equal obligation to teach English to kids from non-English homes and to teach Spanish or any other language to children from English [speaking] homes.

Last week, Fetting responded in the Daily Herald:


It is only fair that our children, who speak English as a first language, have the same advantage to learn a second language without having to pay extra for their education.

Your thoughts?

2 Comments

I don't think "fairness" has anything to do with this question.

"Fairness" implies that teaching no-one any languages (to be even) would be preferred in some sense to teaching language to only one group.

Are we content to allow Spanish-only speakers to remain that way in order to be "fair?" I don't think so. If we want to run a school system where most instruction is in English and prepare children for life in a society where most public discussion is in English, we need to teach all children to speak English as a first step.

If we want to become a bi-lingual society, then we should teach both languages to all. That's a desirable goal, but not a matter of fairness.


The issue is whether students have a right to a second language, or whether bilingualism is a privilege. This country lacks a coherent language policy, so there is nothing upon which to ground discussions of 'fairness'. There seems to be no doubt that students have the right to learn English, but whether or not other languages ought to be supported and promoted is hardly even being debated by our political leaders. Given the negative role the immigration issue is playing in the primary elections, it is not likely we will see an explicit language policy in this country any time soon.

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