Benny Boyd

All I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the language barrier. The more I hear, the more the very concept annoys me.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I heard a piece on the news about employees who had filed suit on an employer for not allowing them to speak a foreign language on the job. The employees, as I understand it, w

ere not being told they couldn’t speak their native tongue in the break room, or even to other like-speaking employees. They were simply told they had to speak English to English-speaking clients. Apparently, this caused some feathers to be ruffled.
At the meeting of the LISD Board meeting on Tuesday, the board had a lengthy discussion about bilingual education programs in the district. One of the programs, a “two-way” learning program, was scrapped for the time being because it requires a greater level of community participation. This, too, may cause some feathers to be ruffled.
Thinking about it, I honestly hope feathers DO get ruffled – not over the program that is being considered, but about what the program might become later.
In short, a committee called the Bilingual Cadre introduced a plan for English Language Learners (English as a Second Language students in my day), that will have students receiving lessons in both Spanish and English, in varying degrees, from pre-kindergarten on through fifth grade. It’s a “one-way” plan, meaning that only ELLs will be included in the program. As they make their way from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, they will be instructed in Spanish primarily, with English introduced little-by-little. By the time they reach fourth and fifth grades, instruction will be half-and-half – half in Spanish, half in English.
The idea is to create students that are literate in both languages. And it’s a great idea.
The point where I started to get nervous was when people started talking about the “two-way” programs. Much like the one-way program, the two-way program works on a tiered structure, in which students receive the bulk of their instruction in Spanish, decreasing little by little. The nerve-wracking part, and the part that will require the commitment from the community, is that in a two-way system, ELLs are in class with English-only students, half and half, and the parents of English-only students must sign a contract to keep their children in the program through fifth grade to ensure that the student ratios are stable.
That seems like a bad idea.
I do understand the need for everyone to learn a second, or even a third language. Our education, our economy and our society become more and more global every day. Learning how to communicate effectively in a global environment makes sense.
What I do not understand is what earthly good immersion education will do a 5-year-old.
In this bilingual program, 90 percent of lessons at the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten levels would be delivered in Spanish. English-only students would be asked not only to learn new concepts, but they would be asked to learn them primarily in a foreign language.
I’m no expert, but it seems to me that such a program would cut base concepts right out from under these poor children.
Remember the old saying “everything I really needed to know, I learned in kindergarten?” How true can that be if kindergarten is being taught in a language people don’t speak at home?
For that reason alone, I think one-way programs are great, and two-way programs can be inherently damaging. The Cadre provided evidence that ELLs benefit from two-way programs.
But they didn’t show me nearly enough evidence to convince me that English-only students will benefit, in the long run. And I hope the Board, Administration and the Cadre will think long and hard before they institute such a program.

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