How Much Use of the Native Language is Appropriate?
Periodically school districts consider barring the use of Spanish among Spanish-speaking students in a school and usually an advocacy or civil rights group in the community intervenes and the ban is never imposed, or is lifted. But here's a new twist on an old issue.
In the Dearborn, Mich., community, The Detroit News reported this week, educators are debating what's the appropriate use of Arabic in the school district, after a study commissioned by a county education service agency said the use of Arabic by bilingual students in the district is slowing their assimilation into American society. (Update: A follow-up article in The Detroit News, "Dearborn schools to remain bilingual," tells how the superintendent of the district is reassuring teachers and staff that the use of Arabic will not be discontinued.)
The study singles out Fordson High School, which has a bilingual program for English-language learners, and recommends that the school prohibit all non-English use unless it's necessary for educators to communicate with parents or students, according to the Jan. 15 article (hat tip to This Week in Education).
The article doesn't mention the fact that, ironically, Dearborn schools are participating in a grant received by Michigan State University from the U.S. Department of Defense to produce graduates who are truly bilingual in both English and Arabic, which I reported on for Education Week in Oct. 2006. Before that grant was awarded, I wrote an article for Education Week, " 'Heritage Speakers': Loss of a Treasure?," about how Dearborn schools had to limit its offerings of Arabic classes (these were classes generally intended for English-dominant students who had exposure to Arabic at home, not the immigrant students) because of a lack of funds.
It seems that the best-case scenario in Dearborn would be for the schools to figure out how to help students to learn English welland also strengthen their skills in Arabic at the same time. The federal government has acknowledged for years that it has a huge demand for Arabic/English speakers.