Bilingual education has been a subject of national debate since the 1960s. This essay traces the evolution of that debate from its origin in the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Bilingual Education Act (1968), which decreed that a child should be instructed in his or her native tongue for a transitional year while she or he learned English but was to transfer to an all-English classroom as fast as possible. These prescriptions were ignored by bilingual enthusiasts; English was neglected, and Spanish language and cultural maintenance became the norm.
Bilingual education was said to be essential for the purposes of gaining a new sense of pride for the Hispanics and to resist Americanization. The Lau v. Nichols (1974) decision stands out as a landmark on the road to bilingual education for those unable to speak English: bilingual education moved away from a transitional year to a multiyear plan to teach children first in their home language, if it was not English, before teaching them in English. This facilitation theory imprisoned Spanish speakers in classrooms where essentially only Spanish was taught, and bilingual education became Spanish cultural maintenance with English limited to thirty minutes a day. The essay discusses the pros and cons of bilingual education.
Criticism of bilingual education has grown as parents and numerous objective analyses have shown it was ineffective, kept students too long in Spanish-only classes, and slowed the learning of English and assimilation into American society. High dropout rates for Latino students, low graduation rates from high schools and colleges have imprisoned Spanish speakers at the bottom of the economic and educational ladder in the United States.
This revolt, the defects of bilingual education, and the changes needed to restore English for the Children are covered in the essay. The implications of Proposition 227 abolishing bilingual education in California are also discussed.